A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Truth in Advertising: ADSL in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 7, 2007

This afternoon I noticed that my internet provider here, the aptly named Cyberia, has a new click-through button up on its website:

adsl.gif

This is quite funny as on the contrary ADSL is arriving here much later than I, or many other people, think it should – or could. Had the company asked me for slogan suggestions, I would have gone with

ADSL: Better Late than Never

 

Perhaps the snide tone explains why Cyberia didn’t ask me🙂.

The arrival of DSL (Americans call it DSL but ADSL is the correct term – the “a” stands for asymmetric, because upload and download speeds differ) in Lebanon has been a kind of politically motivated Waiting for Godot.

ADSL’s imminent arrival has been heralded by various government ministries for the past 21 months, if not longer.

An August 2005 piece published on Ya Libnan said:

 

Lebanon’s telecom operators have a history plagued with corruption.

With over 656,000 Internet users in Lebanon, the demand for a quality high speed service is evident.

GlobalCom Data Services (GDS) was awarded exclusive rights to licensed data lines in Lebanon in 1997, and so happens to be owned by a close relative of President Emile Lahoud. Legal residential Broadband Internet was not available in Lebanon until 2004. As with most monopolies, if you sign up for high speed Internet service in Lebanon, you can count on GDS being there to take their cut.

More significantly, since GDS has taken control from 1997 till today, Lebanon has gone from one of the leading Arab countries using the Internet, to having the weakest Internet infrastructure in the Arab world.

[This is quite true. Much as it pains my Lebanese friends when I say so, SYRIA has better internet than Lebanon. Censored, yes – but also faster, cheaper, and more reliable.]

… The former Minister of Telecommunications, Issam Naaman, decided to ban Voice over IP (VoIP) services in Lebanon. At the time, this meant banning services such as Net2Phone via proxy black list. Since then VoIP services have multiplied, and the paranoid Ministry of Telecommunications failed to progress. In fear of losing revenue on international calls to discount VoIP offerings, the Ministry clamped down on the ISPs by mandating a 32k maximum upload speed for residential broadband service.

32k is significant, since it is below the threshold required for a functional VoIP service. More importantly, 32k is slower than the ancient dial up service, so whether you plan to use VoIP or not, everyone will suffer.

Effectively, the Lebanese have been held back time and time again over the years because of the fear of loss of revenue. While Broadband was booming in many parts of the world, we were stuck on dial up service. The reason: the phone company (Ogero) was fat and happy from the truck loads of cash resulting from dial up telephone usage. Heavy users pay hundreds of dollars a month to the phone company because of their Internet usage. Moving to a Broadband solution would mean progressing from paying for Internet per minute to a flat rate per month.

There is light at the end of the tunnel however. ADSL has been talked about for a long time in Lebanon, and this week Ogero announced that it plans to launch ADSL service in 2006. We can only hope that the service will not be as poor and expensive as the current “Broadband” offering.

Well. That was August 2005. Today that Ya Libnan writer is probably enjoying real high-speed internet in Canada.

Since 2005, numerous articles have been written on the reasons why the government has continued to drag its heels on DSL activation, despite the protestations of the various internet outfits that their services are fully operational.

What’s the problem? An article published in February 2006 suggests some answers:

 

 

Arrival of DSL in Lebanon fraught with problems
By Meris Lutz
Special to The Daily Star

Over a month ago, the Ministry of Telecommunications announced it had signed
a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local data and internet service
providers (ISPs) to bring DSL to Lebanon, which would increase the speed of
Internet connection and possibly jumpstart a struggling information
technology sector.

However, Lebanon’s international cable does not have the capacity to offer
DSL on a large scale, causing the ministry to charge data providers an
artificially high price for access to the cable and state-owned telephone
lines DSL uses.

The ministry sets the tariff for access to the international cable,
<http://www.dailystar.com.lb/printable.asp?art_ID=21918&cat_ID=3> rent of
local switches [collocation] and of the last mile to a household modem, the
most costly being the international connection.

“It’s very expensive when compared to the international benchmark, or even
the regional benchmark,” Sodetel chairman, Patrick Farajian said of the
tariff.

This cost is passed onto the customers, who are expected to pay between
$40-$50 a month, not including a $100 startup fee – more than twice as much
as in Jordan and Cyprus.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade admitted there is a bottleneck for
the international cable, but that the ministry is working to expand
capacity.

“The ministry has been paralyzed for years while the main items discussed
were conflicts with the mobile companies,” he said. “Now that we are out of
this mess we can address the issue of broadband.”

In addition, he said educational institutions will receive special
preference for DSL access, and that while the cost of DSL will be high, the
ministry is planning an overall reduction in tariffs, which would make
existing dialup cheaper.

But many outside the ministry – ISPs, consultants, and analysts – say the
government has had plenty of time to increase broadband and remain skeptical
of the MOU.

“The cost is prohibitive, it’s meant to discourage use,” said Kamel Shehadi,
managing director of Connexus Consulting, a telecom regulation consulting
agency. “They cannot meet the demand of any user who asks for it; the
government has not done enough in the past 4-5 years to increase bandwidth.”

Shehadi said he thinks influential actors who invested heavily in satellite
and wireless services discouraged the acquisition of more broadband because
it would provide a cheaper alternative.

“There are vested interests against Lebanon having greater international
connection,” he said. “These vested interests can only be overcome if the
minister continues to force the acquisition of greater bandwidth.”

Riyad Bahsoum from the United Nations International Telecommunications Union
attributed the ministry’s failure to acquire more broadband to the “lack of
sustainable regulatory environment.”

“This is the reason why I believe it will not be deployed,” he added.

Hamade said that the creation of the Telecommunications Regulatory Committee
is “imminent.”

In addition to the relatively high estimated price of DSL, the ministry has
yet to finalize this and other terms of use necessary before the initial
pilot phase of the MOU can begin.

The plan to offer DSL is broken down into two stages: The first is a pilot
phase due to begin around late March, which allows six ISPs to offer DSL to
360 customers each in Beirut. Six months after the initial pilot, providers
are planning to offer DSL to the rest of the country.

“Before being put into practice [the pilot], some decrees need to be
issued,” IT director of Ogero Toufic Chebaro said.

The fact that many of the logistics of the MOU have not been finalized is
causing some ISPs to doubt the project will be launched on schedule.

“When you say decrees, things take time,” Farajian said.

In addition to determining leasing fees, the ministry has yet to finalize
the licensing of the data providers, many of which are currently only
allowed to provide wireless.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘limited international cable’ argument. The political reasons – that some well-connected individuals do quite well thanks to the current telecom set up – are much more relevant.

Cyberia promises that The various plans, prices and subscription process for this service will be shortly announced on Cyberia’s web site.

Excellent. I’ll be holding my breath.

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