8 Months Later, Lebanon's Internet Speed Still Laughable

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.

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  • http://oussama-hayek.blogspot.com OH

    “People are happy”! We’re experts at the art of self-delusion.

    • Mustapha

      Well, strictly speaking, that was not self delusion, that was a cynical comment by an anti-competitive peddler..

  • Dania

    The person who said that must be related to the thug-taxi driver in the previous post 😀

  • http://www.waja3ras.com Tarek

    Okay to be fair, my understanding of the real problems with regards to this issue, is that it’s not the Ministry of Telecommunication that is the problem. The real problem lies in Ogero and Abdulmen’em Youssef… We’ve heard of him setting obstacles time and time again in the face of the pseudo-liberalization of the telecom sector, and no one in Future Movement even bothers to defend what he’s doing; it appears like he’s a twisted crook that the whole of Lebanon knows off but no one (including a fully March 8 Government) can do anything about it.

  • http://www.beirutreport.com Habib Battah

    Great post, and thanks for giving us a first hand look at your situation in Africa. I did not mean to offend the whole continent! I should have said “For anyone who has ever lived in the most remote or worst connected parts of sub-Sahara…” which are among the few places were speeds are slower than Lebanon.

  • Ali K

    Speaking from my vantage point as someone who works in the telecom industry: There is no clear advantage to running a mobile or wired system as a government unit, or a semi private utility, or a completely commercial company. Also keep in mind that the latter case is nowhere really true, because these companies are using public property, like the spectrum or the right of way or whatever. So they are constantly dealing with the government, and they end up acting like a government arm.

    But say we believe in free markets regardless. The major issue is how these things get privatized. A lot of shady things happen in the process, even in rich stable countries. Large fortunes a created quickly. So imagine how it would go in Lebanon.


    • naja

      Frankly Ali, I don’t give a damn if a fortune is made by a few but benefits are given to all. Take Sukleen for instance: when I lived in London, we were lucky if we had two garbage collections PER WEEK; in Beirut, it is practically around the clock. Did a few benefit from the deal? Undoubtedly. Is our city clean? Just ask anyone who experienced the previous municipality garbage collection service…or who has lived in a few other cities for that matter.

      • Ali K

        I think it is a big problem when quick fortunes are made, because it adds to the perception and reality that everything is about cronyism and so on. That cynical attitude is a killer in Lebanon.

        As a related example, didn’t they privatize the cell phone companies, then un-did it, then got sued etc? And each move entailed one political / confessional side snatching the gold mine from the other. So the track record is not so good.

  • Michel K

    bottom line is there will be no enhancements opportunities in Lebanon without a strong infrastructure. This includes electricity, internet, roads, bridges, etc..the corrupted crook politicians will not do anything about it as long as the majority of Lebanese are illiterate and keep voting for their tribal leaders. it’s shameful & embarrassing.