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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iran cuts Internet speeds to homes, cafes

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's internet service providers (ISPs) have started reducing the speed of Internet access to homes and cafes based on new government-imposed limits, a move critics said appeared to be part of a clampdown on the media.

An official said last week that ISPs were now "forbidden" by the Telecommunications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), the official IRNA news agency reported. He did not give a reason.

Internet technicians say speeds of 256 KBps, 512 KBps or higher are increasingly common internationally. Iranian surfers will now find it much slower to download music or anything else from the Web. Businesses have not been affected by the move.

Critics said the restriction would hinder the work of students and researchers but said it appeared in line with what they see as a squeeze on the media by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rails against the West.

"Once more, one of the most important tools for providing information is faced with new government red lines and restrictions," the opposition reform-minded daily, Etemad-e Melli, wrote in an article on the new speed limitation.

The authorities have shutdown the leading pro-reform newspaper and launched a crackdown on those flouting a ban on satellite dishes. Critics say the authorities have put increasing pressure on opposition journalists, academics and students.

The government denies the charges, saying it welcomes criticism.

An Iranian Internet engineer, who asked not to be identified, said his firm had this week started reducing speeds provided to homes and Internet cafes, but not businesses.

The Telecommunications Ministry official said the order would stay in place until "new regulations for providing ADSL (high-speed Internet) services" were issued, IRNA reported.

It was not clear if this meant the restrictions were only temporary, but another ISP official said he expected the restriction to stay in place.

He said his firm had yet to be officially informed of the new order but was starting to impose the limitations on customers anyway "because we are not looking for problems".

Iran blocks some Web sites, including the BBC Persian-language site, which Iran says has an "anti-Iranian tendency". Satellite dishes are banned because officials say they bring "corrupt" Western values into Iranian homes.
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