By Imad al-Din Payande

National information network: More than just a “flash in the pan”!

June 2, 2021 - 10:38

In recent years, some countries have successfully collaborated with the tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Facebook introduced its legal representative in Turkey to set the agenda for cooperation under the country’s new cyberlaw.

Google agreed to follow Australia’s revenue model and executive instructions, advised by the regulatory body of the country when publishing news on its platform. When it comes to fake news and misinformation, countries such as France, Singapore, and the United Kingdom have also had successful experiences in persuading social media platforms to enforce their national rules. The experience of The Islamic Republic of Iran working with Durov brothers clearly shows that at least at one time such a strategy was on the country's agenda. However, the big question mark brings forward that whether the ruling system ever had objectives of this sort in mind while developing the national network of information. These forms of cooperation – seemingly- don’t require documents adopted by the authoritative power and administration of vast bureaucracies. So, let’s think twice over this problem. 

In 2000, Cord Meyer, a senior CIA officer, wrote a piece to heap praise on the CIA for its role in covertly establishing and sponsoring Radio Free Europe, describing it as one of the most prominent innovations of the U.S. in defeating the Eastern Bloc in the Cold War. In exploring the underlying cause of the unduly success of this project in the Eastern Bloc countries and the consequently widespread public dissatisfaction, he argues that the CIA was certain from the beginning, that no matter how the Soviet Union and Western Germany responded to this emerging phenomenon, they were destined to fail.

In other words, the former CIA officer claims when in 1950 the United States heavily invested in consolidating communication infrastructure (transmitting and amplifying frequency), started news-editorial offices, trained media personnel, and formulated agenda-setting principles for social phenomena, it was unequivocal that authoritarian communist leaders would merely resort to the conventional practices of physical interference; such as making arrests, framing people, assassination, and strategies of that nature. It was as trying to stop an exponentially-growing avalanche simply with a wooden barrier. Thus, during the 1950s, Radio Free Europe amplified the population of ardent advocates of capitalism by thousands a day, while central governments in the Eastern Bloc -in blissful ignorance- were busy interrogating citizens on the charges of working for this medium.

looking retrospectively at the historical records as to how developing countries have dealt with modern technologies, in particular ICT, one cannot help but detect the same line of reasoning. When the Internet, as an emerging being, was put on the decision-making table the desire to form committees, Commissions and councils are nurtured in the heads. Oblivious to the fact that by the time the never-ending bureaucratic paperwork is done and policymakers are ready to present the first measures, technology has already gone beyond blockchain, platform economy, and a myriad of other things to which the sky is the limit.

The tragedy of national network of information in Iran works in the exact same fashion. “National Network of Information” is arguably the most ambiguous policy ever introduced to address the transformational technologies of information and communication. The way people see this four-word phrase as an equivalent to the international internet has indeed its roots in this sweeping ambiguity. A mode of incertitude, not specifically tied to the nature of the matter, yet tangled with the macro-level approach a country takes to represent itself in international affairs.

That is to say, the real questions of what do we expect from the national network of information or what concerns have led us to develop such a policy (existential philosophy), takes precedence over what it really is and how it works. Maybe it is time for us to proceed through the labyrinth of percentages and once again, instead of arguing about the scale of facts, which is basically an endless argument, ponder their underneath existential logic. Considering the starting point of decision-making meetings in 2016, with the objective of determining the scope of the national network of information and the respective execution strategies in the country, it has taken four years for the country to enact the legislation in 2020, meaning the country has practically spent four years to legislate a phenomenon, knowledge of which is at least four years outdated. A four-year term with all the technological and economic advancement, which essentially leaves the former policies futile. However, the issue is in part indicative of the unparalleled taken measures towards the emerging technologies, which is not necessarily specific to developing countries. The problem is that ongoing regulatory structures do not respond swift enough in adapting accordingly to the evolving social and economic conditions, particularly up-and-coming technologies. Moreover, the bureaucratic structure of regulatory governmental institutions is entirely opposed to any risk-taking and cognitive flexibility.

 Destined to fail

National network of information has a view which it focuses on such as independence and self-sufficiency which to achieve these we should understand the logic of layers in cyber governance. Instead of making an active content which shows the culture language, etc. We need a platform to publish the content, quality and competitive advantage in the service layer and the capacity in the infrastructure layer. In the past when you owned a high-quality content for example a TV show you could show your culture and country. But today it is obvious the internet value system, platforms are as linking chains between content and form, which are important for the paramount. In this fast passed arena, the only rule that can help the country is to reach to a larger scale of audience. 

An economic theory, commons, is a situation which there is a shared resource system between consumers. Although each consumer is acting alone for their self-benefits and against the others interests. This causes extinction with their collective activities. Different institutions broke down the entirety of this policy. The national network of information is quite the same as tragedy of commons.

On one hand the economic prospect is the usage of international internet traffic in the country while in another part, some are trying to get benefit from national traffic production. If we consider the national network of information as a political economy paradigm in accordance with the global definition, now the context of the World Wide Web and cyber space show us a new view. Tiktok, wechat, yandex, telegram, etc. have managed to leave their marks in political and economic field of cyberspace. These Avant-grade trends never rely only on filtering, adopting documents, passing laws, forming supreme and non- supreme councils, fragmenting cyberspace, or allocating innumerable infrastructure subsidies.

The path forward

The country’s largest internet shareholder, mobile phone operator, have access to the most accurate tools available to measure and find out the effect of different platforms on national and international traffic usage. Think how subsidies and other forms of direct and indirect support on the infrastructures layer are moved towards the social media platform based on the effect they have on national traffic consumption in each sector instead of going to data centers, internet infrastructure, equipment, or operators.

At the end, greatest policy making on this subject is to guide them to the advantage of national traffic. To put it another way, rather than making costs of the differences between price and quality of national and international traffic for the consumer, the benefit of major stakeholders like mobile phone and fixed operators should come from local traffic consumption. On the other hand, when the operators are interested in generating national traffic and of platforms in effecting local content, a new form of order is automatically systematized, fundamentally the formation of data nationalization ecosystem in the country. The internet industry will enjoy true nationalization just when all the stakeholders’ aims are originally developing quality digital products in all parts of the internet value chain.