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Fiery Debate on Fate of Local Messengers, Iran’s National Intranet

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A press conference was hosted at the ICT Ministry on Monday by Iran IT Organization to focus on the organization’s efforts for regulating local data centers but took a dramatic turn after controversial issues were broached
Fiery Debate on Fate of Local Messengers, Iran’s National Intranet
Fiery Debate on Fate of Local Messengers, Iran’s National Intranet

To increase the popularity and application of Iran’s national intranet, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace has charged the Information and Communication Technologies Ministry with the task of drawing up a plan for giving the local network a boost, a deputy ICT minister said.
A press conference was hosted at the ICT Ministry on Monday by the head of Iran IT Organization, Amir Nazemi. The presser started with an overview of the organization’s efforts for regulating local data centers, but took a dramatic turn after fiery issues were broached.
According to Nazemi, ICT Ministry had been in charge of expanding the country’s communication infrastructure and developing the National Information Network — a local network designed to help regulate online information dissemination. While increasing access to locally hosted services, NIN can, and is, used to censor online content by blocking access to selected foreign services and to curtail cross-border internet traffic.
Pointing to other state agencies’ failure in rolling out decent services through the network, Nazemi said, “The ministry has been charged with developing a plan for expansion of services offered through the network.”
Nazemi also said Iran is setting up “free data zones” similar to FTZs where limits imposed in the mainland on online transactions will be curbed. The project aims to encourage foreign investment in Iran’s data centers and tech firms.



Local Messengers

IRIB’s reporter questioned Nazemi about the recent weeklong nationwide internet shutdown that was imposed in mid-November. The reporter said that during the blackout, locally developed messaging apps observed a surge in the number of users. 
“But since the firm’s infrastructure was incomplete, people were dismayed by the quality of services. It would be nice if [ICT Ministry] extends help to these companies,” the IRIB reporter said.
Nazemi responded by saying that right-leaning media outlets often accused the government of not investing adequately in the National Information Network. 
“The recent internet shutdown— despite being a bitter experience—proved that NIN is operational. Firms like online taxi firms and navigating apps were able to offer services through the network. This is while locally-developed messaging apps and search engines were big fat failures,” he said.
“When people are deprived of their right to choose and are forced to use a service, they would naturally distrust that service.”
The deputy minister also pointed to the service providers’ meager technical capabilities by saying, “You can’t force people to use an online service or bar them from approaching another.”
Nazemi compared the local navigation services' success in the market with the messaging app’s gargantuan failure. 
“International navigation apps have not been banned in Iran, but local developers, by offering more perks compared to foreign rivals have been able to expand their market share. Compare this with the local messaging app’s status. Foreign services have been blocked with the hope that people will be forced to [use local apps],” he said.
During the recent internet shutdown, people turned to local services and many installed local navigation and messaging apps. 
“When the ban was lifted, most people did not uninstall the navigation apps but the messengers ended up in users’ digital trash bin,” Nazemi concluded.
The state broadcaster IRIB launched a messaging app Soroush that has failed to garner attention from users.
The IRIB reporter tried to press Nazemi to get more support for his parent company’s product.
“Many of these companies have financial problems. For instance, managers of Soroush tell me that of the 1,000 servers needed for offering quality services, they were only able to purchase 100.”
Nazemi hit back by saying that all companies face financial hardships. 
“This is a competitive market. Government can’t and shouldn’t shoulder the cost so someone would be able to launch a messaging app,” he said.
“They need to compete in the market. These firms can’t even be called private. People have eyes. They can easily see what is private and what is not. The government cannot and should not pay the salary of a company’s employees or foot the bill for someone’s mistakes.”
Nazemi also spoke about Iran state actors' efforts for launching domestic search engines. Two major projects, namely and, have been launched. The latter is a project of Imam Hossein (PBUH) University affiliated to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
During the recent internet shutdown, people were left with no option but to use these services, but they lacked efficiency.
Nazemi said, “If the project was delegated to the private sector, better results would have been delivered. IRGC should decide about the future of the Yooz search engine.”
“Over the years, authorities have not allowed competition to form in some markets by using national interest and security concerns as a pretext. That policy needs to change,” he added.




Nazemi also was questioned about the recent cyberattack targeting Iranian government agencies.
He said, “Hackers targeted Iranian government bodies using APT27 in cyberattacks that were detected and repelled by Iran's Digital Fortress,” adding that he is not able to disclose whether the attacks were state-sponsored.
In May, a cybersecurity project codenamed Digital Fortress (Dejfa in Persian) was unveiled by ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi to shield the country from increasing cyber threats targeting Iran’s infrastructure and online businesses.
Digital Fortress aims to protect citizens’ privacy, deter cyberattacks on infrastructure, help sustain digital services, combat data breaches and online fraud, as well as to detect malware in the network and stop its spread.
Jahromi said, “Digital Fortress has been developed with an investment of 200 billion rials ($1.4 million) and includes 10 subprojects. The operational costs of the system will amount to 300 billion rials ($2.1 million).”
Speaking in the same press conference, Bahram Asnaashari, the head of Iran ICT Guild Organization, detailed the ICT Ministry’s efforts for regulating data centers.
Iran IT Organization and Iran ICT Guild Organization are encouraging the establishment of colocation centers. State agencies would also be encouraged to make use of the services. 
Iranian data centers are to be audited by private labs. After meeting standards, they would receive incentives from the government.

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