Nearly a week after Iran’s internet went dark amid widespread—and deadly—anti-government protests in the wake of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service may be able to begin providing internet access after U.S. officials lowered key technology sanctions.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the policy change Friday in a tweet, saying it would help provide “access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government’s censorship.”
Musk replied to Blinken saying simply, “Activating Starlink. . .”
A new license issued by the Treasury Department appears to have been created to be broadly used for internet service providers like Starlink, based on comments given to Reuters.
Internet outages were reported throughout the week as service on some of the biggest phone operators in the country, leaving millions offline, while authorities blocked the use of WhatsApp and Instagram.
Nonetheless, alarming videos have emerged on social media platforms from Iran showing growing protests —and an often violent police response—with a reported eight dead so far.
Musk also expanded Starlink, the satellite broadband service that SpaceX first launched in 2019, to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country in February, and after Russian forces destroyed cell phone towers in an attempt to silence Ukrainian communications in the early months of the war. The expansion could also serve as a test for Musk’s satellite service as the company hopes to be available worldwide by the end of the year.
Iranian authorities had blocked nearly all internet access on Thursday following the national protests over the death of Amini, who is believed to have been killed while in police custody for improperly wearing a headscarf, violating the country’s strictly-enforced dress code for women. Iran has cracked down on internet service for years, recently after protests in May, as well as protests last February and during the 2019 protests over gas price hikes, in an apparent move to suppress anti-government information from spreading online. Iran is also dealing with an economic crisis deepened by Western sanctions over the country’s growing nuclear program. In recent months, President Joe Biden and Western European leaders have announced plans to revive the Obama-era nuclear agreement that provides Iran sanctions relief in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program—which former President Donald Trump ditched in 2018. Biden said at a United Nations summit earlier this week the U.S. “won’t let Iran get a nuclear weapon.”
By Brian Bushard, Forbes Staff