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by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 19
November 2019

Iran shows the danger of a nationalised internet

The shutdown should make supporters of Labour's policy think again
by Mary Harrington
A woman checks her smartphone in Iran. Credit: Getty

Internet freedom NGO NetBlocks reports that Iran has shut off almost all national internet connectivity in response to fuel protests.

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm disruptions with multiple fixed-line and mobile providers in Iran, amid protests against rising fuel prices. As of yesterday, Iran has now been offline for 52 hours following a government-imposed internet shutdown targeting widespread public protests.

National connectivity remains at just 5% of normal levels, leaving Iranians cut off from the world as the country enters a fourth day of increasingly severe network disruptions.

- Netblock

The Iranian internet shutdown began less than a day after Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement that, if elected, the Labour Party would nationalise part of BT and deliver a free broadband service to every household in the United Kingdom.

Criticisms of Corbyn’s policy so far have tended to focus on the risk of job losses or the policy’s vaguely communist flavour. But increasingly, the internet is also the public square within which our political debates are conducted. What about the potential downsides of leaving that public square entirely under government control?

I am a long way from being a free-market ideologue when it comes to the delivery and funding of public infrastructure. But the example from Iran should give us pause. Are we truly confident that a Corbyn government, or indeed any government, would not be tempted by a handy ‘Off’ switch for public political discussion if that discussion did not seem to be going the government’s way? If we have any doubts whatsoever we should think twice about getting behind the nationalisation of British broadband.

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