Elon Musk’s Starlink has activated its satellite broadband service in Iran after the United States allowed private companies to offer uncensored internet access to the country amid protests that have left more than 40 people dead.
The open internet access follows Starlink’s activation in Ukraine earlier this year after the country’s communications networks were disrupted by the Russian invasion.
Starlink is the first of a new generation of satellite networks operating in low Earth orbit that are designed to deliver high-speed Internet connections from space directly to individual users. Starlink users can bypass a country’s terrestrial communication networks, freeing them from internet censorship.
However, a special terminal is required to receive a signal from Starlink’s constellation of satellites 500 km above Earth. The terminals include a 20-inch satellite dish, which ships in a package the size of two pizza boxes stacked on top of each other.
Last week, Musk told the Financial Times that he was ready to activate Starlink service in Iran and Cuba if U.S. sanctions against doing business in those countries were eased.
“Obviously the Iranian government is not going to approve it,” Musk said of the Starlink service. “Somebody would have to buy a terminal and smuggle it into Iran, but they would be taking a risk because the government wouldn’t be happy about it.”
Forty-one people have died in week-long protests that erupted in Iran following the death in custody of a young woman accused of not wearing a hijab, according to an ‘unofficial’ figure shown on state television. State. Iranian authorities cut off access to Instagram and WhatsApp last week before the US Treasury announced the easing of restrictions.
On Sunday, Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on Twitter that Musk had confirmed to him that “Starlink is now activated in Iran.” Musk added that “if anyone can get terminals in Iran, they will work.”
The US State Department on Friday eased sanctions that had prevented both internet services and communications networks from operating in Iran.
Under the new guidelines, U.S. tech companies can provide secure platforms and services in Iran without violating restrictions that typically prevent dealings with Iran. They will also allow the export of private satellite internet equipment, which could include Musk’s Starlink service.
A senior administration official said the National Security Council, Treasury and other US officials have spoken with Starlink to discuss providing the service in Tehran.
“We encourage all methods of expanding and maintaining Internet access in Iran,” the official said. “We broadly support the private sector that helps Iranians connect and we are taking our own steps to help.”
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will also prioritize applications for specific licenses or authorizations for internet freedom-related businesses in Iran.
“If SpaceX were to determine that an activity targeting Iranians requires a specific license, Ofac would welcome it and prioritize it. Likewise, if SpaceX determines that its activity is already authorized and has questions, Ofac also welcomes that engagement,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Former officials said Starlink’s activity in Iran may require additional clearances beyond those the Treasury and State Department issued on Friday.
“A lot of it was for Iranians to have access to VPNs and things like that, to make sure there are platforms available for them to communicate,” said Brian O’Toole, a non-resident senior. member of the Atlantic Council who was formerly a senior sanctions adviser at the US Treasury.
Assuming that smuggling large quantities of Starlink equipment into Iran is not possible, bringing it into the country might require some coordination with Iran. “In general terms, you can expect anything that has a real intersection with the Iranian government to probably need a specific license,” O’Toole said.
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