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In Iran, Elon Musk’s satellite network will not ‘radically change the game’

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vows not to ” No Mercy Towards those who show their hostility to the Islamic Republic in the demonstrations. Meanwhile, Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that there will be ” Soon 100 Starlinks will be active in Iran While the authorities restricted access to the Internet since the beginning of the wave of protests that rocked the country.

Kaveh Salamatian is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Savoie.

RFI : How does Starlink work and how does Constellation help circumvent censorship?

Kev Salamatian: Starlink is based on low-orbit satellites, that is, satellites orbiting in the sky at a distance of about 250 km from Earth. The benefit of this technology is that it allows internet connection with a somewhat limited terrestrial infrastructure, with an antenna and receiver arrangement. So it can make controlling the internet more difficult, but it is also done to provide connectivity in some white areas where the internet is not available.

Today, censorship is enforced at a number of Internet transit points within the country. in a IranCensorship mechanisms are done with keywords and are generally installed at Internet access providers or exit points from the Iranian Internet. The Iranian Internet is designed so that these exit points are manageable, limited, and well-defined. Starlink completely frees itself from the Iranian Internet infrastructure, because the only thing that will be on Iranian soil will be the antenna and the base receiving station.

Do you completely bypass censorship and why? ?

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Yes and no. For the lucky recipients of this connection, this will eventually allow them to overcome censorship, as they will have direct access to the Internet via Starlink. But as they say, the swallow does not make the spring. One hundred Internet connections will not change the situation, especially since the Internet in Iran is not completely closed. We manage to get inside videos and inside information on a regular basis, even if it’s fragmented and hard to come by. However, the capacity we are talking about today on Starlink is less than 0.1% of the capacity that VPNs in Iran have today. It may turn things around for a number of activists, but it won’t change things drastically.

There are many elements in Starlink that need to be taken into consideration. First, the cost. The device will cost about 500 euros when you buy the communication system, and you have a subscription of about a hundred euros per month to pay. At the current rate of the euro in Iran, 100 euros is 80% of the average salary of a computer engineer. Another element that must be taken into account is the arrival of the Internet to Iran through satellites and around the Green Revolution, that is, around 2009, there was a huge movement of the security forces to search for, find and eliminate satellite Internet antennas. Today, the person installing the Starlink antenna, if caught, would find themselves in a very complicated security situation.

However, what has allowed the Iranian Internet to breathe a little today is not patches like Starlink and others, but the lifting, two months ago, of the ban imposed by the US Treasury Department on Iranian Internet traffic on US networks. Because the Iranian Internet was between two scissors: on the one hand, the will of the government, and on the other hand, the will of the United States to impose sanctions. Starlink is now coming in to lessen the previous impact a bit, but the damage is done.

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For SpaceX, which is marketing Starlink, is it the risk or the advertising ?

This is a very big advertisement. This allows them to show themselves as a supporter of democracy. And this also goes in the direction of a rather strong rollout, which was done at the level of Starlink in Ukraine. Elon Musk has prided himself on being a very important support to Ukraine in terms of being online. The dimensions of the number of stations that we have in Ukraine have nothing to do with the dimensions of the number of stations that we have in Iran. In Ukraine, we are talking about several thousand, even tens of thousands of stations. But we mustn’t quickly forget that, Elon Musk said, it’s not up to SpaceX to bear the cost. We’re in an approach where we simultaneously want to advertise, but without spending too much.

To also listen: Starlink financing: There is a huge financial negotiation and Elon Musk’s provocation