Musk primed to hand Iran protesters internet via Starlink as he enters talks with Biden

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US President Joe Biden is in talks with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The billionaire could offer his Starlink internet service to Iranians who risk having their online access blocked by Tehran as it attempts to quash protests erupting across the nation. Iranian citizens have been defiantly acting out against their government over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died in police custody under suspicious circumstances after her arrest by Iran’s morality police. Protests, which have been going on for over a month, have involved large numbers of women active in their opposition to Tehran’s oppressive regime, many of whom have removed their headscarves in a major show of force against the Islamic Republic.

These protesters need help as the suppressive Iranian state scrambles to drown out activists’ voices by blocking their internet access. 

One man, the richest on the planet, could offer a huge helping hand. Mr Musk’s Starlink internet constellation already offers connectivity for at least 40 countries. The system works by using SpaceX’s 3,000 or so satellites to beam internet service to Starlink terminals down on the ground.

The service could now be used to offer connectivity to certain social media platforms and allow Iranian protesters to access the internet. 

The US Treasury Department last month said there is a possibility for satellite internet equipment to be exported to Iran, which suggested SpaceX may not need a licence to provide satellite broadband service in the country.

 

Mr Musk then responded to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tweet by pledging to activate Starlink in the country “to advance internet freedom and the free flow of information” to Iranian citizens. 

Now, the White House is understood to be in talks with the billionaire to set up a service in Iran, officials familiar with the matter told CNN. 

A senior administration official told the organisation: “We have our foot on the gas to do everything we possibly can to support the aspirations of the Iranian people. 

“That is our policy, period. At the same time, it is truly an Iranian movement led by young girls and spreading to other aspects of society. And we do not want to in any way eclipse their movement.”

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While the service has provided vital assistance to Ukraine as Vladimir Putin’s troops unleash a brutal offensive, Mr Musk, who is also the Tesla boss, is reportedly facing huge challenges to keep Starlink up and running there. 

Mr Musk tweeted: “SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable.

“In addition to terminals, we have to create, launch, maintain & replenish satellites & ground stations & pay telcos for access to Internet via gateways. We’ve also had to defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder. Burn is approaching ~$20M/month.”

The SpaceX boss also recently said that his firm had spent around £71million ($80million) to enable and support Starlink in Ukraine, although this is only a drop in the ocean compared to the world’s richest man’s net worth. 

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CNN also reported on last week that SpaceX wrote a letter to the Pentagon last month claiming it could not continue to finance the Starlink service in Ukraine, warning it may have to stop funding it unless the US military stepped in to provide tens of millions of dollars a month.

Mr Musk has since said his rocket company will continue to fund Starlink internet services in Ukraine indefinitely.

He tweeted: “The hell with it, Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

The firm has so far donated around 25,000 ground terminals to Ukraine, and the internet access has helped the ex-Soviet state reboot key infrastructures during Russia’s brutal invasion. 



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