Fresh off a week-long internet blackout
that left the nation reeling, President Hassan Rouhani triggered a new wave of
anxiety among Iranians fearing they soon may be all but shut off
from the global community.
While in parliament on December 8 to
officially hand over the budget bill for the upcoming Iranian calendar year
(March 2020), the president said
internet bandwidth speed has multiplied twenty times compared to when he first
assumed office in 2013.
“So we will continue this process in
order to develop our internal National Information Network in a way that our
people won’t need foreign [networks] to meet their needs,” Rouhani said, adding
that this is an order issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The National Information Network
(NIN) is the term used by Iranian authorities to refer to the country’s
intranet supported by domestic servers in order to avoid the negative
implications associated with “national internet.”
The NIN has been under development
for years—in part a response
to the 2009 post-election protests known as the Green Movement. While
theoretically it could have positive implications for Iranian businesses and citizens
affected by US sanctions that severely restrict access to services offered by
American tech giants—including Amazon,
Google and Apple—it has also raised concerns that it may permanently replace the
For many Iranians, Rouhani’s comments
in parliament were the final nail in the coffin.
“Rouhani has left no room for doubt
this time. He has clearly spelled out the establishment’s intents concerning
the internet,” said Siavash, a 41-year-old founder of an online retail business.
“The way I see it, it’s now just a
matter of time, and we have to base our future plans on this.”
An anonymous Twitter user, who identifies themself as a computer programmer, wrote that companies have been ordered to move all servers inside Iran within three months to be able to operate in the event that there is another internet blackout.
Iranians got a taste of what life with the intranet would look like when on November 16, a country-wide internet blackout was rolled out by order of the Supreme National Security Council. During the week-long shutdown, connectivity level flatlined at 5 percent according to NetBlocks, a nongovernmental organization focusing on cybersecurity and internet governance.
During that time, bank transactions
and some public services, including the online systems of government ministries,
were still available through the NIN. Even a select number of domestic
businesses, including major ride-hailing app Snapp, were allowed to reconnect
to the world wide web.
The blackout was in response to
protests prompted by the tripling of gasoline prices overnight that gripped twenty-nine
of Iran’s thirty provinces and claimed at least 208 lives and
prompted at least 7,000 arrests, according
to Amnesty International. Iranian authorities said it was a necessary move to
derail plans of “rioters”
and operatives guided by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
comments came only weeks after the protests and blackout, which left many
Iranians in shock and despair. Some see being cut from the outside world as the
wanted to stay in my own country, hoping for a better future, but lately I’ve
been questioning that decision a lot,” explained 28-year-old Rana.
“My entire work
will be jeopardized, and all our collective lives will be disrupted if there’s
no internet. We’ll turn into North Korea,” added the graphic designer who
accepts projects from abroad.
another major disruption with heavy implications are only compounded in an
economic environment defined by high inflation and unemployment. Iran’s economy
has taken a serious hit since US President Donald Trump unilaterally reneged on
the nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposed crippling sanctions.
sentiments of despair also filled Persian social media as users tried to
grapple with the idea of a future where their digital lives could be turned on
its head. This is while thousands of websites, along with almost all major
social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—are already blocked in
Some turned to
dark humor, as Iranians are prone to do in difficult situations, to process the
“In a while
they’ll close the country’s doors and create a ‘national abroad’ in Qom or
Mashhad or somewhere else and say anyone who wants to go abroad can only go
there,” one user tweeted.
signals are coming from different elements of the establishment have further
confused and frustrated the Iranian people.
On the one
hand, officials demonstrate a willingness to replace foreign-based services
with domestic versions.
Jalali, who heads Iran’s Passive Defense Organization a body tasked with
combatting threats, has maintained that the country is in dire need of a fully
operational NIN. The network could counter
the influence of Google-owned Waze, which he described as an “Israeli tool” given
that the GPS navigation software was designed in Israel. Jalali believes the
app played a role in intensifying traffic in Tehran during the protests.
On November 9, Jalali
called on parliament to pass regulations that would obligate the government to
complete the NIN by the end of the next Iranian year (March 2021).
authorities have tried to reassure the public that they regard the internet as
a vital part of the country’s future and economy.
access to the global internet was restored on November 23 following the
protests, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad
Javad Azari Jahromi released
a video message apologizing to the public and conveying that the government
understands the need for global connectivity—even though the initial blackout happened
under his authority.
believe that living without the virtual space and without connecting to the
global network is no longer imaginable,” he said.
Only a day
earlier, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Azari Jahromi for his role in the “wide-scale
the minister vowed that he would continue to advocate for access to internet. However,
officials in Azari Jahromi’s ministry pushed back and defended the necessity of
depending on international infrastructures and the global internet network does
not equal lack of necessary connections,” tweeted Mohammad Jafar Nanakar, the head of the ICT ministry’s legal department—adding that the NIN could help decrease the
vulnerability of local infrastructure.
responding to Nanakar’s tweet pointed out, the definition of “necessary” and
who defines it is a crucial point and precisely what has millions of Iranians
concerned for their online future.
“As if all the
uncertainty and isolation we already deal with weren’t enough, now we have to
worry if we’ll literally have our connection to the outside world cut off,”
Maziar Motamedi is a Tehran-based journalist focusing on the Iranian economy. Follow him on Twitter: @MotamediMaziar.
Fri, Jun 8, 2018
A female truck driver in a burgundy headscarf stood on the side of a highway to Mashhad, explaining in a video sent to Voice of America Persian that she was joining a truck driver strike. It wasn’t long before the video and others like it caught the attention of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). […]
Thu, Oct 17, 2019
Maryam searched all over Neyshabur’s pharmacies, a town in northeastern Iran, for her mother’s diabetes medication. “I came back home, exhausted and didn’t know what to say to my mother,” the 30-year-old economist explained. “It was late in the night and I searched Instagram. Wow! I found a place where I could buy my mother’s medicine.” […]
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