When will the Internet get up to speed in Lebanon?
By Will Donovan
Source: The Daily Star
Beirut on Monday, November 24, 2008
Amid rave reviews and the glow of high-definition television screens as far as the eye could see, the 13th edition of the Levant's Information Technology Exhibition at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center is a look into Lebanon's potential as a future technology hot spot for the Middle East.
Representing a mix of local, regional, and international companies and organizations, the conference is highlighting Lebanon's growing market for high-end consumer electronics, high-speed Internet connectivity, and information technology services and software.
The conference also played host to a controversial topic in information technology currently facing Lebanon, the growing demand for the deployment of a high-speed Internet network.
An organization at the conference represented by the Partnership for Lebanon, along with local banks, NGOs, and technology industries, is calling for signatures for its "Broadband Manifesto." Its goal is to achieve universal Lebanese access to a 100 megabit-per-second network , by 2011. Current speeds in Lebanon are generally limited to 1 megabit per second.
Eli Geahchan, communication manager for Partnership for Lebanon (a conglomeration of multi-national technology companies such as Cisco Systems), highlighted the problems with Lebanon's current DSL network: "Internet access is very expensive despite its limited speed ... It's important to educate consumers on the fact that what they have right now is not broadband, and that with true high-speed access in Lebanon, the whole country will benefit from economic growth and access to information. Lobbying and marketing are as important in this issue as education and awareness of such a network's benefits."
Geahchan underlined the opportunities for deploying high-speed wireless technologies such as WIMAX, especially in mountainous regions of the country. The Broadband Manifesto calls for "reclaiming Lebanon's position as a regional leader in the provision of products and services" and notes that "broadband connectivity ... is an enabler of economic growth and social development."
It also demands a more competitive marketplace, with an end to Ogero's government-promoted monopoly.
Geahchan believed the conference was already a success for showcasing the organization's message.
Dolly Hajjar, account manager of WISE, a Lebanese Internet service provider offering ADSL, wireless microwave, and dial-up services, echoed the sentiment that "definitely the conference is a success."
The Daily Star inquired specifically about the current state of Internet access and connectivity in Lebanon, and Hajjar agreed with Geahchan's conclusion that Ogero's position as a government-owned monopoly limited the free-market's capacity for innovation and inexpensive products. Still, she was optimistic that there would be "gradual freedom" over time, and that the key to the success of private providers, those that must rent bandwidth from the government-(Ogero)-owned lines, is to increase value through better services and more robust product offerings.
WISE's position is that "everyone is preparing for" high-speed wireless technologies such as "WIMAX," and that this will be a way to circumvent the power of Ogero's monopoly of the phone and DSL lines.
At present, there are roughly 34,000 DSL subscribers in Lebanon and most of them deal with Ogero, which control the bulk of the Internet market.
Critics say that DSL did not spread as officials hoped, adding that there are still 200,000 subscribers who are either using the obsolete dial-up or the illegal cables.
Despite that,Hajjar is confident that ADSL service is the likely future of Internet service here for the next few years, especially since Ogero is planning to increase DSL access next month. Accordingly, wireless access will continue to be an "option" as opposed to a status quo, though she told The Daily Star that "we're still selling wireless more successfully than was expected." She added that the private sector must focus on market share and better service in order to have a voice at the table.
Slow internet driving foreign companies away from Lebanon
By Dana Halawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, July 17, 2009
Slow internet driving foreign companies away from Lebanon
BEIRUT: Many foreign investors are reluctant to establish businesses in Lebanon due to low speed of broadband connectivity which affects their production capacity, the president of professional computer association Gabriel Deek said. “Slow broadband connectivity in Lebanon is behind the success of Dubai in attracting business opportunities that should have come to Lebanon instead,” Deek told The Daily Star.
“We have very slow and expensive broadband connections in Lebanon. Huge companies such as Microsoft need high speed connections for them to be able to connect to their international networks, which costs no less than $50,000 per month in Lebanon,” Deek said.
Gabriel Deek is a member of the Lebanese Broadband Stakeholders Group (LBSG) which is an informal organization that includes representatives from different economic entities in Lebanon. The group is behind a campaign that is being launched in the media aimed at creating awareness among people on the importance of high-speed broadband connectivity in the country.
“Isn’t it a shame to waste the chance of establishing new businesses in the country, which could have created a lot of job opportunities by only a few simple measures that could be taken by the government?” he asked.
He added that the maximum speed of broadband in Lebanon is 2 megabits for a monthly subscription of $199 while in France the rate for the 100 megabits speed is 100 euros or $141.
Deek said telecom law number 431, created by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in 1996 and published in 2002, should be implemented in order to liberalize the telecom sector and create competition, which will in turn decrease the prices of these services.
The telecom law regulates the telecommunications services sector in Lebanon and includes the rules for its transfer, or the transfer of its administration, in full or in part, to the private sector, including the rule of the state in the telecommunications sector.
Deek said the law creates competition where companies other than Ogero enters the market and provide these services which will decrease prices and increase the number of users.
“Internet penetration in Lebanon is around 30 percent currently but if prices go down as a result of new companies coming into play, this number will increase to 70 percent if not more, which will yield more profit,” said Deek. “It is in the interest of the government to set up regulations and sell licenses for the private sector to invest and provide these services at lower prices.”
“The government is responsible for the quality of broadband services offered to consumers, and this could be caused by a lack of knowledge or other hidden interests which we don’t know about,” he added.
He criticized Ogero for not supplying ordinary consumers with fiber optics formulas which is restricted for usage in solidere buildings until now. “They don’t do it for customers. Honestly, nobody is satisfied with Ogero,” he said.
He believes that using fiber optics all over Lebanon would increase prices of land, buildings and offices. “This will positively affect the real-estate sector in Lebanon as well as most of the other sectors,” he added.
Board member and head of TRA’s Information and Consumer Affairs Unit, Mahassen Ajam, said the TRA is preparing for an international auction aimed at providing big carriers with licenses, which will encourage competition and decrease connectivity prices in Lebanon. “We are in the process of preparing for the auction but it still needs some more time. Our aim is to give licenses to two companies other than Ogero,” she said.
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