Iran Concerned Over Satellite Internet Hindering Its Censorship
A top Iranian cyberspace official has expressed concern over the challenges that availability of satellite Internet could pose to state control over internet access and content.
"Satellite internet systems are on the way, and when they come, they may bring the National Information Network (NIN) under question altogether, Abolhassan Firouzabadi, Secretary of Iran's National Virtual Space Center (NVSC), told Mehr News Agency on Sunday.
The NIN is a system of control over internet access and content, to block websites and social media platforms deemed religiously or politically unacceptable by the Islamic Republic.
Regulations must be introduced to prevent the country's "cyberspace sovereignty" from being undermined -- presumably by world powers who can or may provide Iranians access to unrestricted satellite internet -- Firouzabadi declared.
"There are various ways to deal with this technology which we are investigating," he said, adding that international action should also be taken to shield the "country's territorial sovereignty."
Satellites beam their signal from space, on low or high orbits, which is considered beyond the airspace of countries. The ceiling of a territorial airspace is considered to be 100 km, below any stable satellite orbit, although there is no formal international agreement.
According to Firouzabadi, the NVSC has formed several taskforces to deal with the threat of satellite internet access. One of the possible ways to block access to satellite internet can be jamming, a technology that Iran has used for many years to deal with foreign-based Persian language satellite TV channels. It has even been used, allegedly by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), to disrupt GPS signals in Tehran.
The National Virtual Space Center which regulates internet access and content was formed in 2012 by the decree of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and most of its members are appointed by him or participate in its sessions by the virtue of their office, as chief justice or commander of the law enforcement forces both of who are his appointees in their roles.
Khamenei has on many occasions criticized the slow progress in launching a controlled national internet network. Under the Fifth Development Plan Act, the NIN should have been completed by the end of 2016. "I can see that the required effort [to launch the NIN] is not being made," he said in a speech on August 23, 2020.
Iran spent billions of dollars since 2010 to develop the NIN, a highly controlled network isolated from the global net which in some Islamic countries has come to be known as "halal internet". At sensitive times such as during the anti-regime November 2019 protests authorities nearly completely shut down the internet to prevent news and images from the protests to reach the outside world.
Satellite internet, still not widely available to the public even in Western countries, is the same technology that allows broadband access on many commercial flights. To use satellite internet, which several companies in the United States and Britain provide now, the consumer needs to have an outdoor unit (ODU) -- a small reflective dish-type radio antenna -- and an indoor unit (IDU) similar to a regular home router or even a portable one.