It has been 11 days since Iran’s presidential elections brought in the self-styled moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani and already things are looking up. The long suffering Rial is now surging against the dollar; reformists are becoming more empowered; and based on my own anecdotal evidence there’s another sign that times are changing: internet connections are suddenly much stronger than in the days prior to the elections.
While most websites and (all social media sites) are blocked in Iran, people use proxy applications to access them, which can slow down Internet speeds. Connections are never flawless, but I can generally video chat and speak with my family via skype or ovoo with the only the occasional dropped call.
During election season, it’s a different story. Over the past several years, Internet clampdowns have intensified in the run-up to elections, even low level elections. This year’s controversial presidential elections seemed to inspire the worst interference in Internet access yet. The government took no chances and blocked most websites and all video chat applications. My family like many others, used proxies to access oovoo. Because of the considerably reduced speed I could only hear my family’s voice and was not able to see their video during the months leading up to the elections. The connection was far too week.
The night that Rowhani was announced winner of the elections Internet speed was back up. We are now able to see and hear each other with only a few disconnections. Phone tapping, which is a more mastered technique by the government, caused problems during the days leading to the elections. Now, my phone conversations are much clearer and connections are easily made.
Wary of the role of social media, authorities erode the quality of Internet and phone connections to prevent reformists and liberals from organizing anti-regime protests. Internet crackdowns cut off Iranians from each other and limit their access to information. While the government pushes to prevent its people from accessing a wider window, a more moderate president-elect has instilled a sense of unity and hope for the future by creating the opportunity for easier Internet access. That counts as progress in Iran.