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Iran ICT Minister’s Mandate: Making a Difference

The telecoms minister has vowed to put many things in order including solving the problems of ride-hailing services to negotiating with Apple and Google over removing Iranian apps
Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari JahromiMinister of Communication and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi

Iran’s minister of communication and information technology has vowed to make a difference in the key sector, solve problems of ride-hailing services, talk with Apple and Google over their strange and unprofessional ways in removing Iranian apps and do a dozen more grandiose tasks.

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, 34, was speaking at a press conference held at Milad Tower on Tuesday, local news websites reported.

 Apple and Google

Recently Apple and Google started deleting Iranian apps from their app markets. The two American giants cite the sanctions against Iran as the reason for their unjustified move.

Jahromi said his ministry has gone through all the related legal documents and will publish a report on its efforts to solve the new hostile move by the two companies that respected economists say is harming Iranian private enterprise.

“The Telecoms Ministry is in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and is negotiating with Apple to solve the problem.”

He told the reporters without elaboration “In actuality Google’s move defers from what Apple has done.” So far Google has only removed applications of ride-hailing services Snapp and Tap30 while Apple has singled out several dozen services randomly.

 GSMA and Sanctions

During the past week media outlets close to the political conservatives reported that GSM Association (commonly referred to as ‘the GSMA’) has stopped offering services to Iran. The reports stated that this move was due to the unilateral US-imposed sanctions.

GSMA is a trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Approximately 800 mobile operators are full GSMA members. According to the official website of the organization, all Iranian mobile operators are full GSMA members.

Furthermore, the organization operates as a broker between mobile operators in facilitating ties and transferring funds for offering international roaming services.

According to Jahromi, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US Treasury Department’s financial intelligence watchdog, annually provides Iranian operators  permits that enable them to renew agreements with international businesses for roaming services.

The US sanctions bar companies from offering such services to Iranian firms unless a permit has been issued.

Jahromi said “Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran (MCI) has registered for the permits. However, OFAC has not issued them yet.”

Seemingly other Iranian operators have received the permits. “The GSMA has not been barred from offering services to Iranian operators and MCI’s problem will be solved soon,” the minister said.

 Ride-Hailing Services

“The Telecoms Ministry is negotiating with the governor of Alborz Province to solve the recent problem created for ride-hailing services,” he said.

On Wednesday the director of Alborz Public Transportation Organization, Aziz Sadr-Nejad said “Due to a court order, operations of Snapp and Tap30 [Iran’s major ride-hailing services] have been halted in Alborz Province.”

The two services have “disrupted operations of Karaj Taxi Organization and other local taxi services.” The local official castigated the two services as “insecure” and said using them was “dangerous for citizens”. He did not say why.

Later, the province’s judiciary officially took a conciliatory tone and denied the KTO’s claim. It said “the local prosecutor is studying the two businesses’ legal permits; however, no court order has been issued” so far.

In his press meeting Jahromi threw his weight behind the popular and expanding transport service. “Ride-hailing services are secure and have helped in easing the commute of the people” in the overcrowded capital and some other big cities.

“It is all right and well to support traditional businesses. However, this does not and should not be translated into resistance to change and disruption of technology-based businesses,” the young minister said, reiterating his known position on promoting internet-based businesses and ecommerce  -- one of the pet projects of the Rouhani administration.

Since their launch in 2014 Snapp and Tap30 have faced obstructions of various stripes. For instance, in Tehran the Taxi Organization has often condemned the two companies claiming that they have disrupted operations of “conventional” taxi services with steep cuts in fares. Drivers who are members of the once influential organization gathered in front of the Majlis this past summer to protest against the services and demanded their closure.

The businesses have faced similar problems in other cities. In the shrine city of Mashhad in western Khorassan Raazi Province, the offices of Tap30 were shut down by the Taxi Guild. In justifying the harsh measure, the guild said, “The business has not have the necessary permits to operate in the city and therefore its offices have been shut down.”  

Mashhad is the most important religious city in Iran and around the year hosts millions of pilgrims from in and outside Iran who come to pay homage to Imam Reza (PBUH), the Eight Imam of Shiite Muslims.

In Tehran, with help from the Telecoms Ministry, the city’s old taxi agency also launched its own ride-hailing application. Since then the pressure on Snapp and Tap30 has apparently been eased.

Jahromi says the same solution has been proposed in Alborz Province (20 km west of Tehran) and the ministry is willing to provide the local taxi agency with technological means to launch its own app.

“The ministry has and will continue to vigorously support technology-based businesses,” he noted, to drive his point home to the opponents of the ride-hailing companies that they better start learning how to live with the newcomers or find another job.

Furthermore, Jahromi vowed to provide Iranian game developers with means to offer their products in international markets. He also reiterated his promise to work for unblocking important services in Iran, namely Twitter, YouTube and Telegram Voice Call.

It needs mention that making big promises is part and parcel of the policies of governments and ministers, especially on the campaign trail. Delivering on the pledges that observers like to bill as “unrealistic” is something else. Only time will tell whether Jahromi and his men will be able to walk the talk.

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