A mobile phone screen shows Iranian internet providers

Internet Cost Rises In Iran, Limiting People’s Access To Information

Tuesday, 04/19/2022

The cost of internet subscription in Iran has gone up by up to 60 percent, limiting access to information and potentially harming million of online businesses..

Internet providers recently increased the cost of their services by between 60 to 100 percent. According to Tehran Municipality's Hamshahri newspaper, only days after the hike in the price of broadband, mobile operators scrapped all six and 12-month subscription packages and have only more expensive 90-day packages on offer now.

The subscription cost increase comes at a time when inflation is around 40 percent and food prices have risen by more than 60 percent in one year. The budget of fixed-income Iranians is stretched thin and many have cut down even on food purchases.

Last summer during his election campaign, President Ebrahim Raisi said his government would make broadband free to lower income families but so far has not delivered on the promise. His telecommunications minister, Eisa Zarepour, on March 22 promised adjustments to the cost of broadband would be done with consideration so that it would not add pressure to the other pressures people were under due to the high inflation.

Many also complain that despite higher costs, the speed of broadband has also gone down. Zarepour on Monday admitted that broadband speed in Iran is low due to lack of infrastructure development in the past few years. Iran ranks between 140 to 150 in broadband speed and 70 to 80 in mobile internet speed globally, he said.

Most Iranians use mobile internet rather than broadband. According to the latest figures published by the government, there are 10.6 million broadband and 84.1 million mobile internet subscribers.

Around 1.7 million small businesses, employing 7-8 million people, rely on online commerce, which can decline if internet subscriptions or usage decline.

Some Iranian media, such as conservative Entekhab, have alleged that the hike in the cost of access to the internet may be an attempt to reduce people's access to the internet. Entekhab called the hike the "silent implementation" of Siyanat (Protection) bill. The controversial bill, ironically titled Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights, critics say, is meant to enforce restrictions on the internet and foreign social media platforms.

If passed, the legislation currently under review would require foreign and domestic social-media networks and messaging applications to register with a regulatory and supervisory body that would include representatives of intelligence organizations. The ministry of communications and information technology would be charged with blocking any social networks or messaging applications that failed to gain approval.

Hardliners are adamant the bill should pass the parliament. Ahmad Alamolhoda, a senior firebrand cleric who is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative in Khorasan-e Razavi Province, on April 8 strongly criticized the parliament for delaying the approval of the controversial bill. "The enemy is at our throat [on social media] and you constantly dilly-dally. What are you waiting for?" he said in his Friday prayer sermon.

Some of the bill’s supporters argue Iran should emulate China's in creating a national intranet. "The Chinese have unique and innovative experience in this field, which we can put to use," lawmaker Ali Yazdikhah said January 18. China uses its ‘Great Firewall,’ a fortified digital border, to manage access to information entering and exiting the country through the Internet.

Iran has been heavily restricting access to the Internet for the past 20 years. Many foreign and Iranian websites, including media websites, are already blocked in Iran although controls are readily sidestepped by VPNs (virtual private networks) and anti-filtering software. While Instagram is the only major social-media platform not blocked in Iran, millions of Iranians use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp.

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