The importance of a good Internet connection: the Iranian case

Losing a job opportunity because you cannot access a good Internet connection. It happened to Shahriar Khonsari and it happens all the time to Iranian citizens.

posted by guest writer Shahriar Khonsari* from Iran

One night, in April 2015 at Tehran, I tried to check my Gmail account but I couldn’t open it. I contacted my Internet provider and a recorded voice said: “There is problem to access Viber, Google, Gmail, Instagram (… and other applications) due to limitations we cannot control”.
So I switched on my anti filtering program on my Iphone 5 to open Gmail and I became quite happy upon seeing an email saying: “Congratulations! After careful review of your application by our review committee, you have been selected as a finalist for the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues”. I was so excited! I immediately thought it was a great opportunity to improve myself and my work. In the email they invited me to have an interview on Skype. Skype? All of the sudden I remembered the recorded voice “There is problem to access…”. Therefore I replied writing them that I was worried about the Internet speed in Iran, which is sometime too low to have a full and clear conversation, and I suggested to have a phone call. Here is their answer: “However, with consideration to the unreliable nature of your Internet speed/connection, if your Skype connection should not work, we will be prepared to conduct the interview by phone”.

Skype, then. When the interview started everything was smooth, but after two minutes my Skype disconnected. We re-connected, but it happened again and again and again. My interviewers tried to relax me but it was too late: I perspired like a melting ice and, I couldn’t concentrate on my answers and it was difficult to listen to their voices. I couldn’t get this fellowship in the end and it was painful. I am not the only one with these kind of experiences and losing the Internet connections gives Iranian citizens a very hard time on a daily base. Next time I will travel to Turkey to access a good Internet connection and I will not risk this opportunities again.

Understanding the context: the status of the Internet in Iran
Iranian Internet service providers (ISPs) are under a single governmental ISP. Some years ago, ISPs could only give higher speeds of the Internet to organizations, university lecturers and companies. Nowadays some ISPs accept fake documents from their customers to provide them a better speed and I was one of the Iranians who forged a document to get a better Internet connection.

It is not astonishing what Hopper said: “Towards the end of 2006, the Iranian government was seeking to restrict online speeds and fast broadband packages in order to curtain Western cultural encroachment into the country and other influences considered ‘un-Islamic’” (Hopper, 2007). The Government identifies in the Internet a threat to the censorship and its authority over the population; therefore in the last weeks it started to test new smart filtering systems and disabled many anti filtering systems, generally used by citizens to access filtered and blocked websites and weblogs. Many of these softwares are VPNs (Virtual Private Network). Free VPNs haven’t good speed and are very time consuming, so most of the people prefer to buy a VPN account to have a better speed connection. But the government started to sell VPNs accounts anonymously, with the intention to boycott the opposition and to steal information from the users.

* Shahriar Khonsari is an Iranian documentary photographer. Some of his pictures have been published in The Guardian. He got the scholarship to take part in the ICT4D course run by Ong 2.0 since February 2015.