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Iran: Desperately Unwired

For such a notoriously wired country (as least among urban youth), Iran certainly has slow download speeds. According to an international Internet speed test website, Iran ranks number 189 among countries in terms of download speed.

That places Iran behind Iraq and Afghanistan, nations whose infrastructure was either never really there or destroyed by war. South Korea's Internet speeds are about 500 times faster than Iran's.

The amazing thing in Iran is that the slow speeds hasn't prevented people, especially the younger generation, from accessing information.

The eternally long download times are just accepted as a part of life. As one Internet user described on the Tabnak website: “I start downloading a small-sized program then I go to eat my dinner and come back and it’s still downloading.”

The slow speed, of course, suits the regime. Rights activists and web experts have accused the government of deliberately keeping the network slow, especially after the disputed presidential election. And instead of a blanket Internet shutdown the government has instead been more selective about the sites it targets, focusing on opposition sites and social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Evgeny Morozov, blogging over at Foreign Policy's net.effect, has some interesting thoughts on why Iran didn't just pull the plug on the Internet in the midst of the crisis. The idea being that Internet activism is actually a useful diversion for engaged oppositionists and can dilute, rather than enhance, real-world activism.

In the meantime, while Internet speeds remain sluggish, it hasn't stopped the authorities from investing in a grandiose space program. A few months ago, Iranian state TV announced the successful launch of a rocket carrying a satellite, and it continues to be big news.

The government sees such scientific efforts not so much as an investment in future technology but rather as a demonstration of Iran's might and ideological virility.

Too bad the satellite won't help boost Internet speeds.

-- Mazyar Mokfi

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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