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High speeds ahead


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Cedarcom CEO Imad Tarabay tells online new portal NOW Lebanon the private sector is facing problems with importing equipment needed to enhance the services they provide. He is convinced the Telecom is hassling him because of a lawsuit he filed against it over a licensing issue related to upcoming 3G mobile phone network upgrades.

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High speeds ahead

  1. 1. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -High speeds ahead AGENDA High speeds ahead Matt Nash, September 9, 2011 share Lebanons notoriously slow Internet speed is set to get a boost beginning October 1. (AFP Photo/Pierre Andrieu) While the decree that lowered Internet prices and increased download speeds, passed last month by cabinet, has still not been published in the Official Gazette, the government pamphlet that announces official business, the Ministry of Telecommunications and the private sector are confident new Internet packages will be on offer starting October 1. New prices and speeds will be implemented on “the first of the month after the decree is published,” Antoine Hayek, an advisor to Telecom Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, told NOW Lebanon. Hayek said he anticipates the decree will be published on September 15. The decree, he said, needs to be signed by the ministers of telecom and finance, in addition to the president and prime minister. Hayek said the telecom and finance ministers signed the document on August 23, when cabinet approved it. On Thursday, Sehnaoui posted on his Facebook page that “due to Prime Minister [Najib] Mikati’s travel plans, he signed the decree on Tuesday, so with the time it needs to go to the President, be signed by him and be sent to the Official Gazette, it won’t make it before this Thursday’s issue [September 8]. It will most certainly be issued in next Thursday’s Official Gazette [September 15]. So the implementation will be on [the] 1st of October for all Lebanese users.” Facebook pages that are hubs for debate about Internet in Lebanon were atwitter over the weekend with fears that the delay in publication would translate into a delay in implementation. However, Khaldoun Farhat, CEO of the Internet service provider (ISP) Terranet and the data service provider (DSP) Cable 1, told NOW Lebanon that he is also confident the new packages will be available October 1. Indeed, many of Lebanon’s ISPs, which sell Internet connections to individual customers, are offering teaser ads on their websites promising faster speeds at lower prices with higher caps on download soon. None have yet publically announced what they will offer, but the decree outlined what state-owned Ogero, which also sells connections to customers, must offer (see price comparison chart here).1 of 3 9/12/11 11:07 PM
  2. 2. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -High speeds ahead Private sector ISPs are expected to offer the same speeds and caps on download as Ogero, but at slightly lower prices. While many Facebook users were upset that the new packages will include caps on downloading, Hayek defended them as a means to prevent abuse. “If everyone is downloading a lot, it puts constraints on the network,” he said. “That decreases the quality of connections for all users. If you use the Internet normally, the cap won’t be a problem.” The new decree also changed the way caps are calculated, Hayek and Farhat said. In the past, a 2GB cap meant users could upload 2GB and download 2GB each month (any extra uploading or downloading came with an additional fee per GB). When the decree is implemented, however, caps (which are set at 4GB, 10GB, 20GB, 25GB and 30GB) will represent a total for uploading and downloading. Most users download far more than they upload. Farhat argued that under the current system, most users are wasting much of their upload cap. Fees for down/uploading more than one’s monthly limit are set to plummet. Currently, Ogero charges $100 for each additional GB a customer uses beyond the cap. The new pricing decree sets that price instead at $4. Faster Internet at a lower price is expected to boost demand, raising questions about the ability of Ogero and private ISPs to provide customers services quickly and efficiently. Farhat said he has seen hopeful signs indicating that one of the biggest problems the private sector faces—delays in bandwidth purchase orders—will no longer be a problem, meaning customers will not have to wait months between requesting an Internet connection and receiving it, as has been the case. Hayek said that the new decree resolved some of the issues that led to bandwidth delivery problems, notably clearing up confusion over whether the ministry or DSPs pay certain fees. Hayek also said the ministry is set to let the private sector have more market access. Individual customers connect to the Internet through Ogero exchange points. There are some 170 exchanges throughout the country. At 35 of these exchanges, DSPs have a presence. They provide ISPs with access. At all other exchanges, ISPs get access from Ogero. Farhat said that, in essence, the ISP and DSP split what they make from a customer. “If you pay, for example, $20 for Internet, $10 goes to the ISP and $10 goes to the DSP,” he said. At exchanges where DSPs are not present, ISPs are working with Ogero, splitting their earnings with the state. Hayek said that the ministry is “ready” to allow DSPs immediate access to an additional 35 exchange points, with access to the remaining 100 “in around six months.” Hayek also said the ministry is working on upgrading the connections between the exchanges and the wider network, which can constrain an individual user’s Internet speed. Farhat and Imad Tarabay, CEO of Cedarcom, told NOW Lebanon that the private sector has also faced problems with importing equipment needed to enhance the services they provide. In a brief conversation with NOW Lebanon, Tarabay, whose company imports the Mobi wireless modem, said he is convinced the ministry is hassling him because of a lawsuit he filed against it over a licensing issue related to upcoming 3G mobile phone network upgrades. Hayek said the ministry is also working to stop such equipment delays. In addition, the ministry is working on installing fiber optic lines throughout the country. Fiber optic lines have a far higher capacity than the current copper lines that crisscross the country. Hayek said Lebanon should be covered in fiber by the middle of 2012. In the meantime, copper cables could prove a constraint for some. Depending on the quality of the copper line and a customer’s distance from an2 of 3 9/12/11 11:07 PM
  3. 3. Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -High speeds ahead exchange point, actual connection speeds may be lower than advertised, he said. “Customers should check with their ISPs before buying a new package to make sure their line can handle the speed they want to buy,” he said. “All ISPs test their lines and know how much traffic they can handle.”3 of 3 9/12/11 11:07 PM