Rodrigo Davies

Thoughts on Neighborly, civic crowdfunding and the future of community development

Iran's "National Internet" (redux)

10 Apr 2012

Photo by Shahram Sharif

The apparently old story that Iran is planning its own 'national internet' has emerged again today.

Instead of focusing on banning or partially filtering offending content, the authorities are designing an intranet in which sites need to be pre-approved by the government before they are included. That means the likes of Flickr, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, which are currently filtered, are unlikely to appear. While at present many Iranians make use of proxy servers to circumvent internet restrictions, the new system would make that much harder to pull off.

Interest in the story arose again after Communications Minister Reza Taghipour was quoted as saying that the National Internet would be ready as early as August, which many commentators took as a signal that the country would switch off the conventional internet.

But, with international media interest in the issue revived, things took a slightly confusing turn this afternoon when the government issued a statement seeming to deny that the National Internet will replace the conventional internet - and leaving open the possibility the two might run in tandem. That sounds like an expensive compromise, given the government's claims that it is allocating $1 billion for the project (although other estimates put the figure at $37 million).

But perhaps we shouldn't write off the 'two tier' theory completely. The last time Iran's government decided to impose temporary sanctions on the internet, in February, it simply throttled traffic to a crawling speed. Perhaps officials believe that if they periodically (or permanently) throttle the open internet while offering faster speeds on the national internet, they'll be able to coax users across to the state-run model. Quite a crusade, it seems, but they've been working on the marketing plan since last year, promising speeds of up to 20Mbps and a national search engine called 'Ya Haq' (Calling God). I guess it depends how many of Iran's 33 million internet users really are using sites and platforms that the authorities fear.

What's perhaps more worrying is that the state-directed internet model is very likely to be replicated by other illiberal regimes (and Iran says it will be happy to export its expertise). Myanmar is working on a controlled internet access model operated by a government-run company, according to the WSJ, while Pakistan's uncomfortably public search for a contractor to design its internet filtering system was widely reported.

More explanation on Iran's National Internet from Global Voices, posted in January:

Photo: Shahram Sharif