From the first day of the formal launch of the NIN on August 28, 2016, all Iranian users’ traffic has occurred, by default and without choice, within this network. In this environment, the user is not disconnected from the global internet, but he or she must go through the NIN and use the NIN to access information on the global internet. This means the Iranian government has the ability to connect—or disconnect—all users in Iran from the global internet. So far, the authorities have not chosen to do this, but because of the governments’ history of censorship, this capability has negative implications for the security of Iranians’ access to information.
The internet service provider (ISP) is responsible for separating the users’ traffic into internal (domestic) and external (international) traffic, and must show the user on a monthly basis what portion of his or her internet usage was on the internal network and what portion was on the global internet, and the corresponding costs. In most countries, ISPs are private companies which set their own prices, but in Iran the government sets all of the prices through the state-run infrastructure Company—and it sets the domestic price lower than it sets the international price, thereby steering traffic to the NIN.
Some of the ISPs in Iran also offer users a choice of purchasing access only to the NIN—an option that means the user will only see content available on the state- controlled network. In this situation, users have no access to content outside of the NIN. For example, on this plan, a search for the New York Times’ website would not render any results. This option is again encouraged by the government through its cheaper pricing—and the faster speeds available for domestic connections.
Asiatech, one of the first ISP companies to offer access to the NIN as a separate service, offers the service at 128 Kbps and without download limitations at the equivalent of $3.67 USD per month, while the price for the same access to the global internet is $7.70 USD per month. Asiatech was the first company to update the
order page on its website with the notice to its users that by choosing this type of (domestic only) connection in Iran, they would not have access to websites on the global internet. The company does not set or even have any say in the pricing, rather, it is set by the government. Through these price incentives, the state discourages traffic away from the global internet, and toward state-approved content.
A computer network specialist in Iran spoke with CHRI about this service option: “If you purchase [this NIN-only connection], accessing anything outside Iran is impossible and the user will only be able to use the network within Iran. For example, with this service, if you try to open www.google.com, you will receive a message that the network is not able to find this website.”
With the launch of an operational NIN, for the first time since Iranians began using the internet, government agencies are able to block access to the global internet or reduce the speed of internet access in the country at will, while the NIN continues its normal activities.