Musk says he’ll seek ‘exemption’ from Iran sanctions to provide internet service

Billionaire’s Starlink satellite system could expand coverage to Islamic Republic, which faces frequent internet disruptions amid civil unrest

Illustrative: A procession of Starlink satellites crossing the night sky. (YouTube screen capture)
Illustrative: A procession of Starlink satellites crossing the night sky. (YouTube screen capture)

SpaceX CEO Elon said Monday that the company’s satellite-based internet service provider Starlink will request an “exemption” to international sanctions on Iran to provide service in the Islamic Republic, which faces frequent shutdowns.

Rights activists say that the Iranian government often disrupts internet access during times of civil unrest.

Most recently, the internet connection has significantly slowed and was even disconnected in areas in which large-scale protests erupted against the government following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Friday in police custody, UK-based cybersecurity watchdog Netblocks reported Monday.

Amini was detained after morality police found alleged fault with her hijab, violating the country’s strict dress code for women.

Musk’s laconic comment, made on Twitter, was prompted by Erfan Kasraie, a doctoral student and journalist.

Responding to a statement by the billionaire earlier Monday that Starlink had become available on all seven continents, Kasraie asked in a tweet if it was “technically possible” to give the “Iranian people” access to the service, calling it “a game changer for the future.”

Shutdowns in Iran affect internet access at the network layer, Netblocks said, meaning that it is impossible to access the web via VPN or other circumvention software.

Starlink, operated by SpaceX, utilizes low-orbit satellites to provide high-speed internet to consumers, particularly in underserved areas across the globe.

The service was deployed in Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February.

A police motorcycle is burning during a protest of the death of a young woman who had been detained for violating the country’s conservative dress code, in downtown Tehran, Iran, September 19, 2022. (AP Photo)

Iran has faced economic sanctions by the US and the broader international community for decades due to their support for terrorist groups and rogue nuclear program. While sanctions have been briefly lifted since they were first imposed in 1979, they have, on the whole, caused economic downturn and led to widespread anti-government protests within the republic.

Musk did not specify how Starlink planned to circumvent global sanctions.

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