Mahmoud Vaezi Gives His First Interview As Minister of Information and Communications Technology

Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology sat down with Shargh Newspaper in his first interview as Minister. The following is the translated text:

The National Internet does not cut off communication with the global Internet

Prior to the election, Mahmoud Vaezi was not a media figure. He publicly professed that he mainly concerned himself with scientific activities. Throughout the elections, Vaezi acted as an advisor to Hassan Rouhani. After the election, some media speculations started to circulate that he would become Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he was nominated as Minister of communications, and after winning a vote of confidence from the parliament, he went to Shariati building (the location of the Ministry). His office is on the eighth floor of the building and the view from his window looks upon Tehran’s Andisheh park. He says that he is not interested in interviews and this is his first. The following is Shargh’s interview with the Minister of the “Prudence and Hope Government”, who has recently reported his first hundred day report to the President.

Shargh: The question that had been posed everyday to the previous government concerned the “National Internet”. Is the National Internet something like an intranet that will disconnect from the global network, or is it created to increase the Internet’s bandwidth in the country?

Vaezi: The National Information Network has been discussed during the past few years within the Ministry of  Communication and Information Technology. Initially, the network was mistakenly called the National Internet. Later, based on researched definitions and policies, the name National Information Network was chosen as a name to encompass all different aspects of it. Due to the importance of the topic, this program has been mentioned in the the Fifth Development Plan , with its definitions and specifications. According to the amendment of Article 46 of the Fifth Development Plan, the National Information Network is an Internet-based network with “switches”, “routers” and “data centres”,  structured so requests for internal access and data, that are kept at the internal data centres, cannot be traced from outside the country, with the additional possibility of creating domestic private and secure Internet networks.

The specifications in the law for this network are well researched to the extent that this law specifies that the National Information Network consists of communication infrastructures, governmental and nongovernmental domestically developed data centres, and software infrastructure placed around the country. This network has the essential capacity to hold and exchange the domestic information securely in order to develop electronic services and access to the Internet through the national broadband communication platform for home users, businesses, and executive bodies. Some users questioned whether the separation of Internet from the intranet, which is scheduled for the first phase of the project, will lead to access of the domestic network without the option to search through the global Internet? This is not true, since the separation of this network from the Internet is a technical concept that equals to the creation of boundaries between the networks, which can be implemented in different government bodies and sections. We developed this network, knowing that not all information is, and should be available in the country,  and whenever users cannot find the information they are looking for inside the country, they will be lead to the Internet network and international bandwidth to do their search.

Whenever the internally generated content reaches the point that users do not need to cross the virtual boundaries of the state, naturally they will use the Internet less, but the connection to the massive global network will never stop because if the access to this content is interrupted, we will incur a loss in the country.

Shargh: Fluctuation in the Internet speed is a problem that people are dealing with everyday and the government, as the main body in this matter, is always blamed for it. To what extent is the occasional Internet speed loss due to the government policy and to what extent it is the misconduct of the operators and contractors?

Vaezi: Firstly, the ministry is looking to develop the country’s Internet through the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company, where the work is currently  in progress, and after that, the quality of service is checked in different levels of Internet procurement and distribution through the Communication Regulatory of Authority (CRA) of the I.R.I.. The CRA is also required to oversee of broadband Internet service providers to provide the quality level determined by the Commission.

Shargh: How will regulating and supervising the distribution of broadband Internet and consumer rights be addressed in the eleventh government?

As I noted, looking over the service quality in different levels of Internet procurement and distribution is done through CRA. Meanwhile, CRA is monitoring the selling of broadband Internet by the service providers to make sure they comply with the quality level determined by the Commission.

Shargh: Filtering is one of the hottest discussion topics in the society, where due to the expansion of filtering in recent years, even the access to many informative websites has also been cut. Has there any decision been made to reduce the scope of the restrictive measures?

Vaezi: A committee outside the ministry has been formed specifically to find what needs to be filtered and filtering takes place by what that commission communicates to the ministry. So the ministry is implementing the decisions of that committee.

Shargh: Currently, most web-based social networks like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran. Considering that some cabinet members are present in such social networks, has unfiltering these websites been considered?

Vaezi: Unfiltering of social networks is researched in a workgroup outside the ICT ministry. Upon receiving the results of the reviews and the decisions, they will be formally announced to the general public.

Shargh: Are the new mobile operators on the way? Apparently the fourth operator will be based on ‘fiber-optics’. In general, what will the activities of this operator along with telecommunications and Internet development look like?

Vaezi: We do not have a plan for a new mobile phone operator in the current form, but similar to international experiences in other countries we are studying virtual operators for cell phone or Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). These operators have no fiber-optic network access, which is known as the Fourth Operator. Fiber-optics is planned to be expanded to each home, and through this network [we want to] provide shared content, access to the National Information Network, and other services with a very high speed.

Shargh: How was the Supreme Council for Cyberspace launched and what is the Communication Ministry’s role there?

Vaezi: Cyberspace is part of society’s life and it plays a role in all aspects of life like the business relations, education, labour, government, commerce, etc. Therefore, the Supreme Leader’s initiative, Supreme Council for Cyberspace, created nearly 20 months ago is very important to the field, because cyberspace is not just under our control, it is connected to all different bodies and their behaviours. We are preparing a platform, the content of which is created by the population, educational and cultural environment and such. Therefore, it is required that this great undertaking is to be regulated somewhere. After the Supreme Leader’s order, [the council] had one session in March with no further meetings, which resulted in some disagreements. A month and half ago, President Rouhani gave me an order to resolve all the structural and legal problems. Last Saturday, the first meeting [of the council] under the new government took place. It was a very good meeting where all members had a clear view of the Council. During this meeting, it became clear that all state agencies have to participate for this Council to work properly. One of the decisions of the meeting was to organize the National Information Network. Unfortunately, since in our society the ordinary people do not have the knowledge of this special issue, we see that there is confusion in people’s minds.

Shargh: What confusions?

Vaezi: The Ministry of Communications and the government clearly know that people need the Internet, but there are rumours that the National Internet and National Information Network will disconnect the connection with the global Internet. Government has no plans to disconnect people from the global Internet. The creation of NIN means that the access to the domestic data will be fast. Therefore, we want to offer a better service to the public. In NIN the focus is not just on the users; as a matter of fact, we are trying to make an e-learning network, such as e-government.

Currently, still a large part of the population is willing to work through the traditional means versus through electronic Internet paths.

This has two aspects, one goes back to the brokers and those who hold these services, for whom this task is a duty. Therefore, it should involve the education and win people’s trust. It is clear that we can do things easier and faster using this technology. We are looking forward to feed all our domestic requirements through NIN. By implementing NIN, people can be offered cheaper Internet.

Shargh: What role does the filtering council plays in this?

Vaezi: Filtering Council has been established in the Judiciary, and the Communications Ministry is a member of that council. The purpose of this council is to address the moral concerns of the families and the political concerns of the regime. Today’s world is very complicated and technology is developing rapidly. This is not particular to the our country and many countries and their people are concerned about it as well.

Shargh: Do you have a page on Facebook or any other social networking website?

Vaezi: No, I am more concerned with executive matters. Even in the past, if I had spare time I would have used it to do my scientific work. I have not and still do not have a Facebook page. One day someone called me and congratulated me on opening a Facebook account. I checked and saw that someone has made a Facebook page with my name​​, and even had used some good shots. People had expressed their opinions there, which I read. These pages do not belong to me. If there is a good domestic network, I am interested to be a member of. I have always tried to establish a relationship with people, therefore if this happens some day I would be interested to have such pages.

Shargh: Rightel’s license was granted by the Communications Ministry, but faced many issues. What is happening to Rightel now?

Vaezi: Rightel’s license, which was given by the Ministry of Communications, included a visual communication permit as well and the fact that they were prohibited does not relate to our ministry. Right now that we are speaking, people can have visual communication without Rightel. Each person can install some software on their PC or cellphone and have visual communications. But through bad publicity, [some groups] have brought about concerns for the families. We believe that this technology and communication exists in the world and by restricting Rightel, nothing is changed. It is wrong to think that all people are pursuing wrongdoing. In fact, most of our people are using the technology properly and if a small minority is misusing it, they must be corrected.

Shargh: What plans do you have for taking Internet and technology to deprived areas?

Vaezi: We have faced excessive pressure from the public and parliament members on the issue of Internet distribution. The thing is that we have not handed down the Internet. We have all these IT graduates and want to prepare the infrastructure so that the private sector can do the job. There are companies that do this. They have a narrow bandwidth. We believe that those who live in the deprived border areas should not be treated any differently than someone who is in Tehran, since Iran’s facilities are owned by all the people. If we distribute the subsidies, college enrolment, and a thousand other things through Internet, we need to provide access to the Internet to everyone.

Shargh: What was the biggest problem you faced in the ministry on your arrival?

Vaezi: Article 46 of the Fifth Development Plan had put a lot of demands on this ministry. We analysed the situation and saw close to 14% of achievements and 86% of work to be done, where all sectors of business and government and schools need to have a acceptable communication system and Internet by the end of the Plan. 60 % of Iranian households have to be connected to the Internet, and according to the plan, we should already be at 50% achievement to this moment, but the previous government has failed. The ministry has given many promises to people where the infrastructure is not ready yet. A third point was the presence of some strife and lack of peace, but we are in a good condition now.

Shargh: What were the main topics covered in your hundred day report on the Ministry of Communications?

Vaezi: Since the day I have come to this ministry, I am happy that everyone has been placed in a proper management position. I have used all the present people and this has created incentives for good work. During this short time, our international bandwidth has increased and will hopefully increase even higher with the efforts of our colleagues. Fortunately we were able to prevent the increase in tariffs. I prevented a bill that was approved before us, by which people would have seen a 50% increase in prices in August. In today’s world the tariffs are decreased all the time and we should not see their increase here either.

Another work that we did was initiating a phone number ‘195’, where whenever anyone has a problem anywhere, they will be able to call and get information/help, with someone from the private sector will help them. As a result of this mechanism, we can communicate with people and we will report the results about it.