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In 1993 Iran became the second country in the Middle East to be connected to the Internet, and since then the government has made significant efforts to improve the nation's ICT infrastructure. Iran's national Internet connectivity infrastructure is based on two major networks: the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and the public data network. The PSTN provides a connection for end-users to Internet service providers (ISPs) over mostly digital lines and supports modem-based connections. The Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), a subsidiary of TCI, operates the public data network.
Origins of the effort to bring the Internet to Iran date back to 1987. At the time, the Internet (also called ARPANET) was a project supported by the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA), connecting various academic and defense research centers in the US. This network supported only email and simple data transfer (ftp). A similar network supported by IBM was known as BITNET. In Europe, only universities and academic centers were connected to the European Academic Research Network (EARN) which was part of the BITNET network.
Iran’s entrance into the Internet was then spearheaded by IPM and its deputy director, Dr. Siavash Shahshahani. The link was at first through the BITNET network and Iran’s membership in EARN (which developed later to the Trans-European Research and Educational Networking Association – TERENA). It consisted of a single 9600 baud leased line to the University of Vienna in Austria in January 1992. The first email from Iran was a simple greeting from IPM’s director, Dr. Larijani, to Vienna University administrators. The link later developed into a full-fledged Internet link with the assignment of 500 IP addresses to the country and acceptance of Iran as a Class C node. Primary users of the connection at first were academics and research institutions, all being served through their own connections to IPM.
Reports show that Iran has plans on creating a so-termed "national Internet" separated from the rest of the Internet, specifically for domestic use. Creating such a network, similar to one used by North Korea, would prevent unwanted information from outside of Iran getting into the closed system. Myanmar and Cuba also use similar systems.Legislation See also: Internet and ICT in Iran
As mentioned earlier, the Internet infrastructure expanded very rapidly in Iran. The first public use of the Internet in the country dates back to 1995 when students could use Internet console through Dial-up. The demand for using the Internet rapidly increased afterwards making the Internet very popular in a few years leaving the government behind ignorant of the capabilities of this powerful medium. By 2000, CoffeeNets of different size and shape which were connected to the Internet through a satellite dish were abundant around many cities. Public access to the Internet and the rapid growth of Persian sites which provided the public with the news censored in the country’s publications made the government to move to impose the censorship laws on the Internet too. In May 2001, an order titled “Overall policies on computer-based information-providing networks” issued by Ali Khamenei, the leader of the country, urged the authorities to “make access to the global Information-providing network only possible through authorized entities”. Following this order, the Cultural Revolution High Council through a set of laws passed in 6 successive meetings put the control of the Internet in the hands of the government. These laws (Letter no. 3091/sh, December 3, 2001) conflicted with the approvals made by the Council in the previous year (July 2, 2000) stating that the access to information must not be exclusive and “multiplicity of Access Service Providers is strongly approved”. The new legislation states that the government is exclusively in charge of supervising all Access Service Providers across the country. It also states that all ASPs must give up their direct connection and all ISPs and Coffee Nets must obtain license from the government. The new legislation also states that all ISPs must install and use filtering systems to “block access to forbidden immoral and political websites and other undesirable sites” and record the activities of the users to provide to the Ministry of ICT. The recorded information must be endorsed by the Ministry of Information, Justice Administration and the Police. The records may at the request of the Supreme National Security Council or a judge be provided to the Ministry of Information.
Any individual applying for an ISP license must be an Iranian citizen, practically committed to the Constitution, a believer of one of the country’s officially accepted religions and must not be a member of an anti-revolutionary or illegal group. Internet service providers may not without a license use any codes for the exchange of information or offer any extra services (such as Voice over IP). Individuals applying for running a CoffeeNet must be married. The new legislation also restricts the contents of the websites. It prohibits and considers a crime to publish on the internet any material in conflict with or insulting the Islamic doctrine, revolution’s values, the thoughts of Imam Khomeini, the Constitution, jeopardizing national solidarity, instilling cynicism in the public regarding the legitimacy or efficiency of the ruling body, propagating a good image of illegal groups, revealing state classified information, promoting vice, advertising smoking, accusing or insulting state officials. Finally on December 31, 2002, the government issued the “Decree on the Constitution of the Committee in charge of Determination of Unauthorized Websites” stating that, “In order to safeguard the Islamic and national culture, a committee comprising the representatives of the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting, the Cultural Revolution High Council, and Islamic Propagation Organization shall be set up by the Ministry of Information to determine and notify to the Ministry of ICT the criteria respecting unauthorized websites”. Websites notified to the Ministry of ICT by the committee are added to the list of the websites subject to censorship.