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Slow poke: Will Lebanon ever have fast internet?

Slow poke: Will Lebanon ever have fast internet?

Slow, expensive internet in Lebanon has hampered business growth. Reforms are supposed to be on the way but residents are concerned over how fast the new system will roll out.

October 9, 2011 11:00 by

…bandwidth from nearby Cyprus, and tried to import his own internet equipment which got stuck at customs, he says, for over a year.

“When I wake up, the first thing I think about is, will we get increased capacity today?” he said.
Businessman Mark Daou spent the last few months campaigning for faster internet through a Facebook group titled “Lebanese Want Fast internet”, which has almost 50,000 supporters.

“Slow speeds affect me in the advertising business as all our resources are on the internet. Especially now as many of our clients are asking for a lot of online advertising,” he said. “I have to wait for Saturday night, when internet usage is low, to upload files to Saudi and Dubai.”

Lebanon has long had the physical capacity to supply cheap, High-speed internet; in December 2010 a 13,000 km (8,000 mile) submarine fibre optic cable linking the country to India, the Middle East and Western Europe began operating. But access to the cable was delayed until July by bickering between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Ogero, the government’s land-line provider, over usage rights.

The dispute was considered politically motivated as the ministry and Ogero are controlled by opposing sides of Lebanon’s political spectrum, which is deeply divided by religion, sect and economic ideology.

“In the telecoms sector, everyone wants a piece of the pie. It’s a cash cow,” Daou said. “The sector is almost completely controlled by the government. It has 80 percent of the market and the private sector cannot buy fixed licences. Private companies have to renew their internet licence every year.”

A lack of revenue sources in other economic sectors, Daou said, has made the government see the internet as an important source of funds. “The government was the only supplier. They needed the money to finance the treasury. It was generating money and nobody was complaining,” he said.

Lebanese Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnawi told Reuters that successive governments were unable to push through laws to cheapen and speed up connectivity.

“Other (fibre optic) cables in the region were connected before. In those countries, the internal governments have more manoeuverability. We have had big periods of paralysis.”

Last week, a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) connection, the second-fastest option at the time, cost around $76 per month. Under the new pricing plan, a 1 Mbps connection will be the slowest option available and cost around $16.

Economists and business leaders say the economic benefits could be considerable. They quote a 2008 report commissioned by the Ministry of Finance which estimated 10 percent growth in broadband penetration would increase gross domestic product by as much as 1.5 percent.

ChouChic’s Darwiche said she was looking forward to upgrading her website. “We are going to add many functions and the images are going to be a lot clearer.”

Two major ISPs which rely on Ogero for bandwidth supply, Terranet and IDM, have already upgraded their internet services to comply with the new plan.

Even now, however, there is still concern among some private ISPs that Ogero, which controls around 80 percent of Lebanon’s internet cables, will delay further in providing the upgraded service.

“There is not a single person in the country that can obstruct the decision. It will be implemented in a matter of hours and days,” Sehnawi said on Saturday in response…


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