The Ingenious Way Iranians Are Using Satellite TV to Beam in Banned Internet

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Just how Yahyanejad has funded that project isn’t exactly clear, particularly its more than $100,000-a-year in satellite rental fees. He says only that Net Freedom Pioneers receives a combination of private donor and government funds. Yahyanejad declines to say which governments, but emphasizes that only his group’s staff has any say in what materials are included in Toosheh’s daily bundles of digital content.

Eventually, he wants to give at least part of that content-curating role to media companies that would pay to reach an audience he hopes will soon number in the hundreds of thousands. That strategy might help his group distribute a wider range of content, much of which they’ve avoided until now due to copyright law. Yahyanejad admits that U.S. sanctions on Iran—and the fact that his tool likely breaks Iranian law—might complicate that plan. But as those sanctions lift after negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the business model could become more realistic. Despite its legal ambiguities, he hopes media companies outside Iran might be willing to risk breaking the country’s laws. And Yahyanejad points out that Yahsat’s satellite also reaches Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Turkey—all other potential audiences. “In a way, this could be a Netflix type of application” for the entire region, Yahyanejad says.

In the meantime, however, Toosheh is already making progress toward a more important goal, Yahyanejad argues: Showing the Iranian regime that it can no longer control the minds of its citizens. “When the government realizes there are other ways for people to get their content, they’ll be less keen to censor the internet,” he says. “They’ll have to shift their methods. Perhaps they’ll focus on generating more appealing content of their own. And maybe they’ll even change some of their policies.”


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