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.