EghtesadOnline: Ever since the weeklong internet shutdown in mid-November, any disruption in communication services alerts citizens and human rights activists to the possibility of losing access to the World Wide Web once again.
Such tensions hit a new high between Dec. 17 and 19, when widespread disruptions were reported by users.
As the reports emerged, Sajad Bonabi, a high-ranking official with ICT Ministry, took to Twitter and declared that “the disruptions were caused in upstream connections in Europe”.
Bonabi is the vice chairman of the board of Telecommunications Infrastructure Company of Iran, a state-owned company and the sole provider of telecom infrastructure, according to Financial Tribune.
He tells Financial Tribune, “The internet was not disconnected. At its worst, connection speed had slowed. However, millions still had access to the internet.”
Pointing to the earlier internet blackout, the ICT Ministry official says, “The Islamic Republic was forced to shut down the internet because opposition groups are using the internet as a tool against it, to fuel unrest and create insurgency and insecurity.”
In his tweet, Bonabi attached screengrabs from downdetector.com and pingdom.co. He also told Financial Tribune, “I could have used the TIC network management panels to produce more accurate graphs but I decided to use data published by international services.”
The graphs confirmed widespread outages of YouTube and Google services in multiple countries, including Turkey, Bulgaria and Eastern Europe.
Bonabi says, “To prove what I have said, I could also publish SLA reports received from international bandwidth suppliers if it was not for security concerns.”
SLA or service-level agreement is a commitment between a service provider and a client. Certain aspects of the service—quality, availability and responsibilities—are agreed between the two sides. When the supplier fails to meet its commitments, it is required to deliver an SLA report to the customer.
Financial Tribune has not been provided with the reports and cannot independently confirm them.
The official further said, “I have received a detailed report from international bandwidth suppliers working with TIC about recent disruptions. If I published the report or even the names of these suppliers, the hawkish US government could, and I believe would, pressure these companies to cut ties with Iran,” He added that such information can also be used to stage cyberattacks against Iran.
Bonabi is of the opinion, “Such belligerent behavior is in stark contrast with the principles of net neutrality and you know that we have repeatedly been the victim of cyberattacks by the US and its allies. Stuxnet is a prominent example.”
Stuxnet was the first publicly known example of a virus used to attack industrial machinery, which targeted Iran’s Natanz nuclear facilities in November 2007.
Since US President Donald Trump pulled the country out of Iran’s historic nuclear deal and imposed sanctions against Tehran, numerous companies have cut ties with the Islamic Republic fearing Washington’s wrath. Whether the US would pressure bandwidth suppliers to cut ties with Iran cannot be presently confirmed.
During the interview, Bonabi also spoke about bottlenecks in connectivity services that might have caused the recent disruptions.
“Hundreds of thousands of Iranians watched a recently launched online show hosted by Iranian sports journalist Adel Ferdosipour on Sunday. The surge in demand for connectivity put too much pressure on local internet services providers,” he said.
According to the official, more and more people have watched the online TV football show, Ferdosipour's “El Clasico” that was featured on Filimo, Namava and Cafe Bazaar.
“Local ISPs have had a hard time meeting demand for services,” he added.
He further said that demand for landline services has observed a sharp hike after the internet shutdown in November. The shutdown was lifted in a phased manner with landline connections getting restored first.
“Landline ISPs got hundreds of thousands of new subscribers, which has taken a toll on the quality of their services,” he added.
According to Bonabi, a combination of these factors has led to the recent disruptions reported by Iranian internet users.
ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi and his team have said in several interviews that the November internet shutdown was ordered by a security council headed by Interior Minister Abdloreza Rahmani-Fazli.
Nevertheless, the recent blackout does not help burnish the ICT Ministry’s public image.
While public relations efforts, such as Bonabi’s interview and social media activity, will certainly help mend the ministry’s public image, more measures are needed to rebuild public trust.