Mobile connection in Lebanon is the most expensive in the region where almost 2/3 of the fees is accounted for by overheads and taxes. The new coalition government has retracted previous governmental promises to decrease mobile subscription rates. Apparently, under pressure from Sanioura, the price cut was postponed because the mobile sector provides the main income in (much needed) foreign currency for the public pocket.
More importantly, the decision to postpone price cuts follows an established policy of eliminating competition and insuring maximum profit with the eventual aim of fully privatizing the telecommunications sector. The ridiculous prices the Lebanese pay for their mobile connection is the bait that will lure the highest bid (estimated to be between $5 & $7 bn). This policy, by a self-proclaimed liberal and progressive political elite, has gone hand in hand with monopolizing the market and insuring that any competition is nipped in the bud.
The same strategy is followed by the government owned OGERO with respect to Broadband networking. Lebanese ISP’s pioneering work with Internet in the region came to a near complete halt with the absence of proper infrastructure to develop further. Not only did it take forever for OGERO to install the infrastructure, but now they are making it near impossible for the independent ISPs to run a profitable service. OGERO limits their trunk bandwidth, thus limiting the number of subscribers they can have. OGERO also takes its time processing applications for increased bandwidth, undermining private ISPs ability to meet client demands. The result is that OGERO’s share of the market increases. Why? To better the quality of telecom? Rather, the better to privatize with, my dear!
So, while the private sector pioneered Internet connection in Lebanon, the government slows it down, setting us back 10 Internet years with one of the slowest and most expensive Broadband in the region. Instead of supporting and subsidizing private efforts, the government stabs its own memorandum of understanding with the private-sector in the back. Such is government policy of supporting economic and social growth. All this, and the service sector is considered a priority!
It is quite easy to blame it all on Hariri entourage’s economic policy. But now with the coalition government, it is becoming increasingly clear that mindless privatization at the expense of responsible, planned development and sustainable growth is a trait shared by government and opposition alike – if such a distinction holds at all when it comes to their political programs. Once upon a time, when Hizballah was outside government, Nasrallah called the privatization of the Telecom sector “the biggest looting operation in the history of Lebanon.” Not only is the silence deafening now, but the minister of telecommuncations is non other than Orange golden boy. Known for shooting his mouth off from the position of opposition, Jubran Basil is off to a very good start inside the bastion of bowel movement!