For those of you who have still not jumped on the “decentralization is a good thing” bandwagon, let me recommend the recent example of Iran “shutting off” the internet for everyone in the country.

A very quick recitation of the facts shows that there were increasing demonstrations during the week of November 11, 2019 in response to rising gas prices. Toward the end of the week, the Iranian population began to experience widespread slowdowns of internet service. Then, on Sunday, November 16, service was stopped altogether. A country of 80 million people was completely cut off from the internet.

This task may not seem so extraordinary for a totalitarian country where oppression is commonplace, but it actually took some doing. Unlike the internet infrastructure of China, for example, service in Iran was not originally implemented with government controls pre-installed. Also, there are a number of separate players who make the internet go in Iran. This is different from Ethiopia, for example, where a government mandated internet shutdown could be accomplished by pressuring just a few players.

Without these bottlenecks, the Iranian government had quite a task before it. In part, this is why users experienced rolling internet blackouts at first. As the government leaned on the various providers and connectors to disable their parts of the nation’s internet infrastructure, other parts of the network tried to compensate for the outages. This game of whack a mole appears to have gone on for a few days.

Once the job was done, however, the government could proceed without accountability to squash protests. During the week-long outage, over 200 may have been killed for expressing their dissent, but we’ll never know for sure because the ‘public record’ for that period of time doesn’t exist.

And now that the internet in Iran is back ‘on,’ not everything is hunky dory. The government is moving toward having an inTRAnet, meaning that there will be something that looks like the internet, but it will hardly be the ‘world wide’ web. Instead it will be a limited (i.e. censored) network that only lets in what the government deems acceptable. This chilling vision is already a favored strategy in China and Russia.

Iran’s action serves as a reminder that decentralization is essential to the concept of fair governance and free societies. Nowhere is that more important than with the availability of internet services