Shane Farrell

From worst to bad

The worst of the worst. That is how Lebanon ranks globally in terms of internet download speed according to bandwidth testing site speedtest.net. At 0.48 megabytes per second (Mb/s), the internet in Lebanon is twice as slow as in Ethiopia, and four times worse than in Uzbekistan. 

Lebanon’s upload speed, 0.10 Mb/s, is second from the bottom; only the tiny Pacific island state of Vanuatu is slower. This means that uploading files in, say, Zimbabwe, with an upload speed of 1.97 Mb/s, is almost 20 times faster than it is in Lebanon. (The world’s fastest in both upload and download speeds is South Korea.)

The implications of Lebanon’s slow internet are obvious and far-reaching. Not only is it a source of frustration to the individual consumer, but it has a significant effect on the nation’s economy. Indeed, according to a 2009 World Bank study, “a 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration in Lebanon would result in a recurring 1.38% increase in the growth rate of GDP per capita, equivalent to US $400 million per year.” Furthermore, the treasury would benefit in terms of tax returns from this additional growth, which the study estimated at “US $90 million per year on a recurring basis.”

There are multiple explanations for Lebanon’s poor performance. Until recently, the main issue was bandwidth, or, more simply, there was not enough internet supply coming into the country. However, this has largely been amended since the expansion of bandwidth from the pre-existing international underwater CADMOS cable from Cyprus, as well as the creation of another fiber optic cable linking France to India, which connects to Lebanon via Tripoli.

But while greater bandwidth is now available, the infrastructure within Lebanon is inadequate to support it. To deal with this, the government is currently in the process of constructing a fiber optic network across the country, which is expected to be constructed by February of next year, according to a statement by caretaker Telecom Minister Charbel Nahhas to the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in October 2010.

This project, as President of Professional Computer Associations of Lebanon Gabriel Deek explained, “will create rings of fiber connectivity in the whole territory of Lebanon that will link all the major cities and locations… and it will provide around 300 points where the fiber will be delivered - such as hospitals, media, banks, universities and government.” All going to plan, these points will see their internet connectivity speed increase “by more than 60 percent,” according to Antoine Boustany, advisor to the telecom minister.

In addition, third generation (3G) technology is being introduced in Lebanon which will enable cell phone users to connect to the internet on their phones at a rate of 20 megs, a connection speed that is 20 times greater than the best connection speed currently available to businesses in Lebanon and 40 times greater than that available to individuals, according to Deek. Through this technology, Boustany said, customers will also benefit from greater connection speeds on their computers, as long as they have access to wifi and purchase a required card.

According to iloubnan, Minister Nahhas announced that 3G technology would be deployed in Lebanon “within a few months.”

But even with these improvements, many argue that more steps need to be taken.

Some question whether aspiring to 3G technology in Lebanon is enough, when other countries are nearing 4G. Moreover, the improvements that are expected to be made through these initiatives still fall far short of the demands of a coalition of businesses and other interested groups in 2008 for each citizen and business to have “access to 100 Mb/s in all major population centers” by 2011. Boustany estimates that by August of this year citizens will start to have access to 20 Mb/s. 
Another major concern for citizens and businesses alike is finding a solution to the cost of internet in Lebanon.

Currently, said Riad Bahsoun, vice chair of the Board of Directors of SAMENA Telecoms Council and Chairman of the International Telecommunications Union Cyber City Project, “[Lebanon is] something like 2.5 times to 12 times more expensive than other countries in the region” when it comes to the price of internet for the individual consumer. This is despite the fact that other countries in the region provide a faster connection.

 “The bottleneck is that the government has the monopoly on the internet,” said Deek. “The monopoly is in the hands of Ogero, and Ogero is not giving bandwidth to people.”

Deek and others advocate for the liberalization of the market so that the private sector can compete on the provision of services to customers. “If there is competition on the services,” he said, “then we can easily get 20 megs or more because the fiber infrastructure will allow this.”

The National ICT Strategy Coordinator at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Salam Yamout, agrees, saying, “It is only through true competitive practices that we will have the best services for the consumer at the best price.” Furthermore, Yamout criticizes the fact that Law 431 of 2002, which was supposed to privatize the telecom sector, has not been implemented.

“ICT in Lebanon is not a priority,” Yamout said. “You always have the political problems, the financial problems, what have you.”

Yamout is “optimistic” that “when the decision makers will understand the problem – and that it’s a fixable one – then they will advance quickly in doing this.” But others are not as hopeful. Bahsoun, for one, said that “where we are today, we will be staying for 16 or 18 months at best.”

What remains to be seen is how the formation of a new cabinet will affect the priority status of ICT in Lebanon, whether the projects that are currently being constructed are completed according to schedule, and if concrete steps are taken to liberalize the market.

Boustany, for one, believes that although the issue has not been decided yet, there “is going to be an open market.” As to when he expects this to occur, he did not say, but stressed that “We cannot make any decision [on the matter] before the new government [is formed].”

As Deek sums up, “The government has all the cards in its hands.”

  • Fatat

    i don't believe this shit..first they said in august and then september and now they said october...shit on the stupid goverment of lebanon...liars...no dought !!

    September 29, 2011

  • Noor H.

    This is too much. The internet has reached a level that less people are using it. Youtube need like 20 minutes to load something that is 3 minutes. The situation must change or else no more internet will be used in lebanon

    August 10, 2011

  • ali

    Well the dream is actually coming true.by next week lebanon will have a very fast internet connection. I can't beleive all of u people doughted lebanon..... well it can be doughted. anyways, CONGRATS LEBANON!

    August 5, 2011

  • George

    i don't think that the government is going to improve the internet here in lebanon ... i went to qatar for 1 week ... the internet there is amazing ... even though lebanon was among the first countries to have internet in the region ... what a shame ... i live in Aley now and i ordered the high speed internet (2.5 mb/sec) ... for an unknown reason they said i couldn't get it ... so please before thinking about improving the internet they should at least make this one available in all regions ...and don't make me start talking about the electricity ....

    May 3, 2011

  • kegham

    Do you know guys what is the main problem ? these all because we dont have in Lebanon other than a sheep people. Who are only give and support their interest for ... politician and nothing else. When Lebanese people will wake up begin interesting of their own living etc, then everything will be better. Nice article and keep it up. Best regards: 100% supporter for this article/ Kegham Depoyan

    March 16, 2011

  • joe tohme

    i really appreciate this article, and i appreciate more the comments ! Because those people who wrote now knows that internet is the most developped connection worldwide which we do not have ! The thing is it's true about the ogero monopole ! But ! Lets think about it ! Do you guys know that lebanon territory can access 3 important satelites internet connection ? Which means for exemple a speed of 10mb/s with 4gb/s daily use for only 36 $ ! What i mean is lebanon ban us from buying the reciever to access any of these arabic internet satelites ! Because leb government wont gain money if this is adopted ! Well how about a better solution ? Ban personnel from selling the reciver and let leb government sell thsi equipment ! Leb will make money and users will be happy so as the economics ! But leb governers think that by doing this people wont benefit and buy future 3g connection but its wrong since 90 % of people care about latency known as lag moew then speed and the satelite is knoy big

    March 16, 2011

  • ziad

    WoW! nice article guys, well written and well investigated... According to what I know, apart from the OGERO monopoly, there is conflict on how to divide the pie, especially the son of MP Hamadeh who was coveting the deal. The "Aouniste" and co claimed that they will remove the zir from the bir (yshylo el zir min el bir, excuse my English) but they realized that connectivity can be dealt with best if they get the Ministry of Interior first Ceci dit good luck, for 200$ a month I can use Skype in a fairly acceptable manner between 8 am and 5 pm, bass no use after 6pm P.S: where does Lybia rank in the whole thing :)

    March 8, 2011

  • Miumiu

    lets get 24/24 Hrs electricity before you discuss the speed of the internet !!

    March 8, 2011

  • joseph

    Precisely the reason we don't live in Lebanon. Our company is service based and no way can we move our company to Lebanon. The Internet is the MAIN problem. It should be very high on the priority of our government. Israel is the forth most advanced country in terms of online software as a service provider in the world. A silicon valley can be born right in the heart of Lebanon is our Damn Politicians do anything about it.

    March 8, 2011

  • Reiny

    Fawzi, you missed the point: we're already the worst and the improvement we're expecting will make us only marginally "less worse", i.e. bad. So it's not an editing lapse: it's a nice touch by Shane to give us hope that Lebanese internet will. one day, be slightly faster than its current snail-like pace! thanks Shane!!!

    March 8, 2011

  • claudine

    In answer to your question, Pierre, our politicians are too busy competing amongst each other and most of the Lebanese people are too busy getting killed for them. Social, technological, infrastructural progress will never be made in Lebanon :( Working in subtitling, If I had a faster Internet connection, I would definitely have a better income and more free time (instead, I have to get caught for hours in traffic jam to get a hard copy of a media file). But I don't have much hope, despite the "good news."

    March 8, 2011

  • Nick

    Umm, Fawzi, it means we are currently the worst of the worst but, in time, we have some improvements coming up, but they will not be enough... At least include an air - a small taste - of uncertainty when you want to criticize other people's work. You have a problem with the info in this article, present the info that refute it. Screaming "nothing will ever be solved!!!!" does not constitute a valid argument.

    March 8, 2011

  • nimportequoi

    It is really a shame... We were among the first to have internet in the region... what our politicians are doing ? how can we work in such a country now that everything is being done via internet. Can the current or previous telecommunication minister read the article ? Shame on them ...

    March 7, 2011

  • fawzi

    I think you mean "From Bad to Worst." Nice editing guys. Also, this article is awful and riddled with factual errors. Do not expect to see any improvement in Lebanon's internet speeds until at least 2013.

    March 7, 2011