Elon Musk’s hope to operate his satellite internet firm in Iran requires permission from the U.S. Treasury Department, which said it welcomes applications to support internet freedom in the country that is largely isolated from Western economies.
The Tesla Inc. CEO announced earlier this week that his satellite internet firm Starlink would seek permission to operate in Iran. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said it’s up to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to decide on Starlink’s next steps.
“We have of course, in the past, provided for various forms of exemptions for the Iranian people’s ability to communicate with each other and with the world,” Sullivan said during a White House news briefing Tuesday.
Starlink, a division of spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX, also owned by Musk, has been in operation since 2019. It disperses thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth to provide broadband access globally.
The firm has attempted to provide internet access to the Ukrainian people during Russia’s invasion and has acquired contracts with the U.S. military since as early as 2021.
If Starlink internet access is provided to the Iranian general population, it could come at the objection of the government, which has tightly controlled internet access.
A Treasury spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity because no application has been received, said the Office of Foreign Assets Control welcomes applications for licenses to authorize activities supporting internet freedom in Iran.
In 2014, the sanctions arm of the Treasury issued a license authorizing exports of software and services to Iran that would allow the free exchange of communication over the internet, with the intent to foster the free flow of information to Iranian citizens.
Despite the allowance, firms have been reluctant to do business in Iran, for fear of violating existing sanctions and other laws that impose penalties.
However, in January 2021, GitHub — a source-code storage service — announced that it secured a license from the Treasury to offer its services to developers in Iran.
“We were able to demonstrate how developer use of GitHub advances human progress, international communication, and the enduring US foreign policy of promoting free speech and the free flow of information,” the company’s website states.
A representative from SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.