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Starlink terminals reportedly smuggled into Iran amid internet shutdowns

Don't thank Elon

Iranians are reportedly smuggling SpaceX Starlink broadband satellite terminals into their country as Tehran restricts internet access amid an ongoing uprising.

Protesters continue to clash with police after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, was arrested and reportedly beaten to death by officers for not wearing a hijab last month. The Iranian government has shut down internet services across the country to stop people outraged by her killing from organizing and communicating via social media and other services.

Last week, CNN said senior officials in the Biden administration were in talks with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about providing Starlink's broadband service to support activists in Iran as part of an overarching effort by the White House to push more connectivity into the Mid-East nation. Musk donated Starlink terminals and subscriptions to Ukraine amid that country's occupation by Russia.

An Iranian political activist working to restore internet connectivity over the weekend claimed SpaceX gear had been successfully snuck into the country. It's unclear how many terminals protesters have access to. "It's safer not to say anything about the numbers. I don't want them to know what to look for, the scale," the activist told Time. "Let them wonder."

The effort to smuggle hardware into Iran did not involve the help of the US government nor SpaceX, he said. 

A video showing multiple boxes of Starlink dishes reportedly being set up in Tehran started circulating last week:

Smuggling the hardware in and using it without alerting the authorities – who are now wise to the bootlegging, thanks to Twitter and press reports – will be difficult, especially as you have to point the dish to the sky without any obstruction. "Starlinks are not ready for countries with hostile governments," the activist said. "The company needs to do more to make them more practical and safer for people who live in these countries."

Musk claimed the Starlink terminals supplied to Ukraine have cost $80 million so far and this will reach $120 million by the end of this year and $400 million for the next 12 months. In a letter to the US government, SpaceX said it could not keep footing the bill indefinitely. The US government, however, has reportedly paid the company $3 million for 1,500 terminals. There are also donors and others paying for Starlink internet in Ukraine. ®

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