Make sure you don’t miss Habib’s excellent report on why Lebanon’s internet is the way it is. What struck me most is this part:
So why not buy more bandwidth? “Because we don’t need it,” [a Lebanese official] said in an interview with Bold. “We are not seeing a lot of people requesting upgrades. People are happy with 1mbps.”
For anyone who has lived or worked outside Sub-Saharan Africa […] that assessment may be a little hard to digest.
Those two paragraphs struck me in two ways: First for how callous, condescending and clueless the official (and by extension the government) is. People have been going crazy with frustration over how slow the government is at improving the connection’s speed.
And second for the fact that even the author, Habib, is not completely aware of how bad the problem is: Sub-Saharan Africa is also better than Lebanon. I live and work in Sub Saharan Africa, and we have much better internet connection than Lebanon. I’m writing this post from a 20Mb/s connection with unlimited downloads (it even says so in my ISP’s website) that is available for slightly less than $100/month (with cheaper options available that are all better and cheaper than what the Lebanese get) .
There are many reasons why the internet in Lebanon is bad, but to me the chief one is the fact that the ministry of telecommunications is involved in running the show. Telecommunications is the Lebanese government’s cash-cow, and a cheap fast internet connection (like a cheap call rate) is a threat to the government’s margins. This is why competition is nipped in the bud and a policy of artificial scarcity (re-read the official’s interview statement) will remain the government’s line no matter what politicians say.
Moreover, because of all the politics involved, Lebanon can’t just sell its entire communications infrastructures to companies like Vodafone and Orange the way many African countries have done (to the consumers’ advantage). Privatization in Lebanon is given a bad name because it involves laying off a lot of people, people who don’t do any work and are paid by the taxpayer simply because they are some politician’s protegé. And worse, the privatizations that did take place were exploited by politically connected businessmen who enriched themselves without benefiting the consumers.
That was the long version. The short version is that we’re all screwed.