Iranians could pay up to 34% more for the internet in 2024, as providers get the green light from the government to increase their rates.
Viewed as a measure to balance persistent high levels of inflation, many commentators fear that less affordable internet tariffs could exacerbate current problems with online censorship while deterring citizens from accessing digital services.
Authorities have long tried to control what information users can and cannot access, especially during times of protests. As a result, Iranians have flocked to VPN services as a way to bypass restrictions. More expensive internet rates appear to be another way to limit people’s online activities.
A restricted and expensive internet
“In an environment of political unrest and regular protests, reliable and affordable Internet is crucial to maintaining social connections and staying informed, making this new barrier to connecting to the Internet even more devastating,” said Lina Survila, spokesperson for the Surfshark VPN provider. me.
Tehran is famous for heavily restricting the Internet: Surfshark counted 55 cases since 2015. However, this trend intensified considerably in late 2022, when a wave of protests broke out following the news that a 22-year-old Iranian woman had died in custody. of Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating strict hijab regulations.
Authorities began by throttling internet connections and restricting access to Instagram and WhatsApp as a means to silence protesters.
Since then, weekly internet connectivity outages have also been imposed during Friday prayers in the Zahedan region, making Iran by far the biggest perpetrator of internet outages in 2023.
While a virtual private network (VPN) cannot help during periods of complete internet shutdown, it is a very useful tool for accessing restricted social media platforms and other blocked sites. It spoofs users’ IP addresses while encrypting Internet connections to improve privacy.
Simply put, VPNs make government-imposed restrictions ineffective, and that’s something that doesn’t sit well with authorities.
We already mentioned how technology acts as an oppressor and liberator in Iran. An increase in Internet prices certainly falls into the first category.
On this point, Survila said: “It is very likely that this increase in Internet rates is an attempt to put online access out of reach for many Iranians. The study by Surfshark’s Internet division has shown that the Internet is already trending to be unaffordable in low-income countries (including Iran). This price increase threatens to exacerbate the problem.”
To make matters worse, Iran’s internet infrastructure is also considered one of the worst in the world. In a detailed report, the Tehran E-Commerce Association described it as being in a “critical state.” The government has even previously shared plans to create a national Internet, echoing what China has with its infamous Great Firewall.
This time, concerns also came from political sectors.
As Iran International reported, former Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi said: “The result of the price increase is apparently clear; the end of this spiral will lead to securing the economic interests of satellite Internet providers and expanding the possibilities [political] gap between the people and the government.”