Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

October 2006

Censorship and Iran03:26, October 24, 2006

Reports have been coming, in the recent days, that the Iranian regime has capped all privately owned Internet connections to the ridiculously slow 128 kbps. Most of the reports – at least the ones that I have read – focus entirely on the fact that it’s a virtual ban of broadband content such as videos from YouTube and music downloads. I agree that this is a problem, but I would also like to add another structural problem that I feel is potentially worse than missing out on the latest viral advertisements – however funny they may be. I do not believe the only reason for this ban is to stop the influx of western culture. I think it is also (another) way of shortening the leash for freedom of speech inside Iran.

The Internet is a wonderful medium, and one I personally believe is excellent for the promotion of democracy, simply because it is inherently symmetrical. What I mean by that is that those who can receive can also transmit. This argument is well known though the debate of Net Neutrality in the United States (not so much in Europe). Anyone can set up a server and make just about anything available to a global audience. The Iranian imposed limit, however, effectively removes the opportunity to do so. You cannot run much of a web server on 128 kbps ADSL. Not if your intention is to get read. Also, you can’t set up TOR-nodes to hide behind with only that amount of bandwidth to spend.

The regime probably knows that this ban force people to use one of its authorized servers if they want to publish a blog or a forum. And these servers are so much easier to control.

My point is that democracy builds on participation. If you can’t, for example, organize a strike or discuss political issues with your extended network, there will be no democracy. Regardless whether or not you can download the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less than a minute. And I think it is imperative that the decentralized structure of the Internet is allowed to shape the future too. Even in Iran.

Uncategorized02:30, October 14, 2006

In an effort to bridge the digital divide and with hopes of becoming the perfect supplement to the US$100 OLPC, the Green WiFi project has designed a solar powered WiFi relay station. The basic idea is that a grid of relaying stations can provide an entire area with internet access without being dependent on a reliable external source of power. Using standard off-the-shelves components and open source software the network should ultimately become a self sustaining, self healing, network solution that is cost effective and easy to deploy.

[The] software operate without extensive planning or central management, automatically figures out the fastest way to reach from point A to point B and continuously monitors the network paths […].

Without doubt, necessity and creativity will develop and refine the technology even further ? and from where I stand the project is more interesting as a proof-of-concept than as a packaged product. What I want to know is: How do I build one myself?

I wrote about a book a couple of months back that attempted to be a DIY manual for cheap wireless networking. The logic is that people in rural areas – in developing countries – can operate and maintain their own network, if given the proper knowledge how these things work. In every village, there are people who can fix and build just about anything – from microwave ovens to combustion engines – so why not computer networks? If this was to be deployed in real life situations there are a lot of hacks that can be done to enhance the range and reception of these devices.

Relying on local knowledge like that is to me a great strength, so the question is if it’s possible to integrate it into Green WiFi?s plans.

Censorship02:50, October 12, 2006

One thing that I was asked about in Iran a few times was how to blog anonymously. And about better ways to get around the filter. I tried my best to explain what I knew about the subject, but I think I lost most people pretty quickly. And besides, it can be somewhat complicated and these things are so much easier to understand when they’re written down. Now Ethan Zucherman, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has compiled a step-by-step guide to explain the necessary procedures in great detail.

The guide is in only English as of now, and it would be so much more useful if it was available in other languages as well, I think. It would be great to have it in Persian to send to my friends. Is there anyone out there who would be willing to do the world a huge favor and translate it? If the author permits it, that is?

Digital Culture21:14, October 5, 2006

Rosemary Bechler, contributing editor to openDemocracy, recently released her book “Unbounded Freedom” that is an excellent overview of the debate on different sorts of intellectual property. Through telling the history of copyright law she is able to explain and paint a vivid image of why the current trends turn are so challenging for the creative industries.

User-led innovation is reshaping cultural production so that it is trans-national, more egalitarian, less deferential, much more diverse and above all, self-authored. […] Bechler argues that Creative Commons thinking enables cultural organisations to embark on mutual relationships of trust with huge new publics. Describing the transformative potential of new attitudes, she offers us a vision of the future in which “unbounded freedom” is not simply a romantic notion.

It’s an interesting read for anyone who’s interested in the current debate on anything from file-sharing to cheap AIDS-vaccines in Africa. She also discusses the possible implications of the Creative Commons for Developing Nations License and how it can allow western content creators to contribute to less fortunate areas, without the risk of losing revenue at home. (An idea that sounds good, but that I’m not sure would work in practice. More on that someday.)

The whole book is, of course, Creative Commons licensed and can be downloaded here.