Lebanon to offer cheaper, faster Internet
Beirut, October 1, 2011
Lebanon proclaimed a faster and cheaper Internet connection on Saturday, aimed at improving a service currently ranked the worst in the Middle East.
'The speed (of the Internet) will now be four to eight times faster and prices are down 80 percent,' Telecommunications Minister Nicola Sehnawi told Reuters at his central Beirut home. 'The Internet capacity has also increased two to five times.'
Despite being seen as a pioneer of Arab business, Lebanon has the slowest and most expensive Internet in the Middle East, and by many accounts, the world.
Ookla, a company that tests Internet speeds, often ranks Lebanon last on its global Net Index and the country is always much lower down in the rankings than many less developed nations, such as Afghanistan or Burkina Faso.
Currently, a one megabit per second (Mbps) connection, the second-fasted option, costs around $76 per month. Under the new pricing plan, a one Mbps connection will be the slowest option available and cost around $16.
Government critics and private telecommunications companies have blamed corruption, mismanagement and political wrangling for delays.
Lebanon has long had the physical capacity to supply cheap, high-speed Internet to the country and in December 2010 a 13,000km IMEWE (India- Middle East- Western Europe) submarine fiber optic cable, which linked Lebanon as far east to India and west to France, became operational.
But Lebanon delayed access to the cable until July after internal bickering between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Ogero, the government's land-line provider, over rights to tenures.
The deadlocks are considered politically motivated, as the Ministry and Ogero are each controlled by opposing sides of Lebanon's deep political divide based on sect and ideology.
Sehnawi originally told Reuters that the IMEWE cable was not made operational in Lebanon for 'unknown reasons,' but he later added that there were political factors at play.
'Other (fiber optic) cables in the region were connected before. In those countries the internal governments have more manoeuvrability,' he said. 'We have had big periods of paralysis.'
There are still fears among private Internet Service Providers (ISP) that Ogero, which controls around 80 percent of Lebanon's Internet cables, will further delay on providing the upgraded service.
Sehnawi disagrees. '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,' he said.
Two major ISPs which rely on Ogero for bandwidth supply, Terranet and IDM, have already upgraded their Internet services to comply with the decree.
Separately, a 3G service is currently in its pilot stage, with 4,000 Lebanese currently sampling the product before its official release later this month.-Reuters