Iranians, predominantly dependent on mobile data, are outraged by the government’s recent approval of price hikes, with many alleging corruption.
“Where there is monopoly, collusion takes shape between [operators] and the government, and they scam the people in any way that they wish, same as in the case of car manufacturers, internet taxis, pharmaceutical import companies, and many other businesses that get special authorizations from the government,” a reader of Khabar Online wrote in response to the Tehran-based news website’s enquiry from readers.
“Salaries increase by 18 percent, which will be implemented next year, but prices increase by 34 percent and more. I will just remain silent and leave [the response] this to God,” another reader answered.
Around 90 percent of Iranians use mobile internet rather than broadband. According to government figures, there are 10.6 million broadband and 84.1 million mobile internet subscribers.
Operators had petitioned the government to increase their broadband and mobile tariffs by 100 percent, the government claimed, but have only been allowed an increase of 34 percent.
Media, however, have reported that operators have increased the prices much more. According to Fararu news website, the cost of data packages sold by Hamrah Avval and Irancell, two of the country’s top mobile operators, has gone up by up to 156 percent. A 50 GB package sold by Hamrah Avval for 1,190,000 rials ($2.38) previously, Fararu said, has gone up to 3m rials ($6).
Most criticisms are directed at President Ebrahim Raisi who during his inauguration in 2021 declared that easy access to the Internet is a right for all and promised free internet for low-income families.
The ministry announced this week that the government will give the heads of households in the three lowest income groups ten gigabytes of free mobile internet for accessing domestic websites (five gigabytes for international traffic) every four months for which they need to register with the government.
The free internet can only be used on one phone registered to the head of the household.
Even the ultra-hardliner government supporter Kayhan newspaper has admitted that the quality of internet services available to Iranians has caused public discontent.
Considering the low speed of the internet and operators’ “abnormal request” to the government to increase data package tariffs by 100 percent, Kayhan wrote, the government must resolve the problem of the slow internet speed before allowing the tariffs to rise.
Users are also forced to purchase costly Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and anti-filtering software to access blocked websites and major social media platforms and messaging applications such as Instagram, and WhatsApp, which are extremely popular with Iranians and used by many large and home-based business.
Speaking to Fararu news website Sunday, the former head of Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, said the government’s decision to increase the cost of internet could potentially entail an increase in the cost of VPNs. He alleged that there are people with influence in the government who benefit from these increases.
Falahatpisheh argued that restricting people’s access to the Internet, which forces them to seek ways to circumvent filtering, benefits those who are granted VPN sales permits by the government.
“Why are some people granted the permit to break the filters if some sites and content on the Internet pose a danger to the country’s security and are blocked?” he asked.