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Iran's State Broadcaster Withholding Frequencies Needed For Internet Expansion

Employees work at headquarters housing Alibaba, Iran's largest online travel booking service, in the capital Tehran on February 17, 2020

Scared to lose its monopoly Iran’s state-run broadcaster has slowed down the expansion of the Internet in the country by refusing to allocate parts of its unused frequency bands.

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) and local internet infrastructure companies need 700 and 800 MHz frequencies to develop the fifth generation of the mobile Internet and increase the network's capacity and speed in Iran. But this can further weaken the weaken state TV’s monopoly on the production of videos and the flow of information.

Iran communications authorities believe that 700 and 800 MHz frequency bands are the best option for the development of fixed and mobile Internet in the country, and it can lead to a reduction in the costs of connectivity cost and an increase in quality.

The lower the frequency, the larger would be its wavelength and the higher its coverage and resistance to disruption. Through the application of low frequencies, operators can create more and better coverage with the least amount of investment, and broadband networks are less expensive for the consumer.

However, the higher the frequency, the higher the number of communication towers needed, and the higher the cost of coverage. Furthermore, with additional towers more optical fiber is required.

Presently, such frequencies are no longer used by television networks, and they are released for the development of mobile Internet in the modern world.

Although it has been long since the Islamic Republic television dropped these groups of frequencies, it still refuses to give them up for developing the Internet in the country.

The ICT Minister, Mohammad Javad Jahromi, has admitted that the mobile network in Tehran has reached its maximum nominal capacity, and the only way to increase the bandwidth capacity is to add the frequency exclusively possessed by the state-run radio and television network.

"We've been trying to get hold of the frequencies for three years ... but they have not cooperated", Azari Jahromi has lamented.

Firing back, the deputy director of development and technology of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Reza Alidadi, has argued that the state-run radio and television networks are currently planning to broadcast in HD and 4K and it needs the unused frequencies.

"Therefore, in no way IRIB can release any frequencies," Alidadi has argued, adding, "Considering the current needs and ongoing plans of the IRIB, it is not possible to free any band, and new transmitters must be installed and run on all bands."

For its part, MICT's Deputy in Regulatory Affairs, Nastaran Mohseni, has responded by demanding, "Where on earth 700-800 [analog] bands are used for increasing the quality of HD or 4K broadcasting?"

In the meantime, reports also say the analog system has lost its efficiency for the IRIB operation; therefore, it should be surrendered to the local internet operators who are unhappy and suffering from a severe shortage of frequencies.

Earlier, a member of the board of directors of the Information Technology Organization of Iran, Behzad Akbari, had noted, "If we want to make the 5G service dominant, the IRIB must release the plethora of frequencies at its disposal to be used for the development of the 5G."

Nevertheless, if the fifth generation of mobile Internet becomes dominant in Iran, its extremely high speed could practically make online TVs available for all and end the IRIB's radio&TV monopoly in the country.

Based on official data, the IRIB has more than 100 international, national and provincial radio and television networks. Still, the organization has seen a decline in its audience as satellite and Internet networks have expanded.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), according to the country's Constitution, is the sole organization allowed to run radio and television networks in Iran. According to Article 175 of the Constitution, the appointment and dismissal of the head of the IRIB rest with the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A council consisting of two representatives each of the President, the head of the Judiciary, and Majlis (the Islamic Consultative Assembly or parliament) supervises the operation of the organization.