Iran’s president has urged the country’s ruling clerics to be more open to the Internet. Hassan Rouhani has accompanied his call by allowing 3G and 4G services for the first time.
Historically the country has been at best suspicious of, and at worst hostile to, the idea of citizens communicating online. Many leading Western-based services have been blocked since 2009 in an apparent attempt to restrict political protest. Political and religious leaders have argued that “immorality” would spread on an unrestricted Internet.
The Islamic Republic News Agency reports Rouhani as saying Internet access was needed to help Iran make scientific progress. He’s quoted as saying:
We cannot shut the gates of the world to our young generation. Once, there was a time that someone would hide his radio at home, if he had one, to use it just for listening to the news. We have passed that era.
While filtering and blocking remains common in the country, they are only of limited success as many more tech-savvy younger users have found ways to bypass the controls. Arguably the biggest practical limitation to online communication was access speeds, with both fixed-line and mobile services restricted to a crawl.
Having recently allowed broadband firms to offer faster speeds, Rouhani’s government has now issued licences for high-speed mobile broadband. That means that those users who’ve figured out ways round the filtering will now find it much easier to share multimedia content such as videos encouraging or reporting on protests.
It remains to be seen if Rouhani, who has only been in position for just over a year, will be able to sustain or even extend his push for greater online freedoms given the opposition of the more conservative hardliners among Iran’s political powers.