The Ferrari Before the Highway

When I heard about the deployment of 4G in Lebanon, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, who wouldn’t want a blazing fast internet connection on his phone? On the other I was perplexed; do we even have the bandwidth infrastructure to support this? It felt wrong and surrealistic, but in a way it was a very Lebanese thing to do.

Glamor before substance

In Lebanon, the Ferrari always comes before the highway. The Ferrari is the flashy products that everyone is immediately impressed by. The highway is the unglamorous backend, the infrastructure that requires long-term planning, painstaking maintenance and incremental upgrades, the infrastructure without which a Ferrari can’t really shine.

But everywhere we look in Lebanon, we see Ferraris but no highways:

  • We have tablets in schools, but we still don’t have electricity, adequate classrooms or textbooks.
  • We have democracy and voting, but we don’t have real civic institutions, independent media and rule of law to make it work.
  • Women have all the trappings of liberation without any of the real, actual empowerment in law.

In Lebanon, everyone loves the Ferrari and nobody wants anything to do with the highway. Ministers love to show off the ferrari because it’s less work and it’s immediate proof that they have achieved something. The population loves the Ferrari because it can be used as shorthand for progress, a nice little trick we do to tell the rest of world that Lebanon is actually a modern place.

Revenge of the Highway

Today the highway is fighting back. Not even the sexiness of the Ferrari can hide the complete ugliness that is our highways. The roads are all choked with traffic and the rain literally cut off electricity from the entire country. Lying to one’s self can only go so far, and it won’t take long before people realize that 4G is worthless if it doesn’t come with cheap and abundant internet.


Update: Do read Minister Sehanoui’s response in the comments section.

→ Respond to this post On Twitter
  • http://N/A William

    All of us knows the saying ….. marble from the outside and garbage from the inside…. what can I say more

  • Nicolas Sehnaoui (@NicolaSehnaoui)

    Dear Mustapha,

    While it is true that our teams are working hard to get the Lebanese Youth the Ferrari, these teams are also working really hard to fix the damaged Highway.

    In fact they have been doing so for the past two years, day and night, and in extremely difficult circumstances.

    Since you have mentioned “cheap internet”, the above mentioned efforts have decreased prices by 80% on average and were about to do so again just when the Ministry resigned.

    As for “Abundance” we have increased the speed by 15 to 18 times on average, increased the caps, secured redundancy and made it free by night.

    While I agree that we are not on the “perfect” Highway yet, and while I cannot force anyone to believe that change is indeed happening and we are heading there, I’d like to only ask you to be fair to the real efforts of these teams and acknowledge it in just a few words whenever constructive criticism, like in your blog post above, is given.

    Finally I invite you to watch our latest MOT report video here for a glimpse of what has been done to accelerate fixing a Highway which has been neglected for many many years:

    • A lebanese internet user

      Two words, not enough. Some improvements happen, but far from enough and far from what the ministry’s communication is trying to picture. The fact is that we are still lagging way behind and that businesses are suffering as a result.

    • Mark D

      What you need to do is set a long term plan for the ministry to get to the “perfect” highway. A start would be to stop indulging in self-promotion, announce both wins and losses through the Ministry itself, because there’s a huge team working on these things, and not post the ministry’s “Achievements” videos and tweets using the “Nicolas Sehnaoui” account on YouTube, your personal account on Twitter, etc.

      I remember once when the internet cut in all of Lebanon, I got a text signed by the MoT saying there was a problem, and when it was fixed, I got a text signed by “Nicolas Sehnaoui” saying it was fixed. Again, both wins and losses need to be announced through the MoT.

      There needs to be a little continuity, you’re leaving, and someone else will come on. I do not care about the people themselves, I care about the institution.

      A little off topic I know, but this is something that has been bothering me quite a bit.

      • Habib Battah

        Excellent points. I actually think the public is more likely to rally around full disclosure of challenges and work planned, instead of selective spoon feeding and PR efforts.

    • Anonymous

      I think the author of the article is the voice of many Lebanese who are pessimistic regarding internet access in Lebanon and its institutions. I for one am one of them. It’s almost impossible to receive FAIR internet access; yet we pay high end fees. Minister Sehnaoui jumped onto the 4G wagon while ‘dial-up, dsl, wireless, 3G, landlines, signals, receptions, etc.’ are still very much lagging. Shouldn’t what is already initialized be perfected before moving on to our next milestone? How can a country offer some citizens 4G access while others are denied access to something so simple as a landline phone?… Or even cellular signal? Seems a little strange to me.

    • Habib Battah

      This video is set to private. I also tried to view it on your Facebook page and the result was same. Maybe a problem with the settings.

      • Matt Nash

        Yeah, what’s the problem and can it be fixed, Minister Sehnaoui? Would be interested to see it.

  • http://monowbrow monobrow

    lololololo day and night working for election indeed

  • Kay Kamel (@KayKamel)

    Actually we can’t blame these people for all the problems we are fighting , we should give them credit of what has been done, as well as support to do other stuff. HOWEVER if they did not improve we can start blaming them although we did not blame the previous ones.

    • Kay Kamel (@KayKamel)

      Some simple facts to Share: 3G was launched and operating in 40 countries in 2007 however it was launched in Lebanon 2012 (5 years), 5 years for a country level is waaaayyyyy far.

      However 4G was operated in 2010 however in Lebanon was 2013 (3 years) although it is far too, but it there is progress.

      From my personal opinion this ministry is the only ministry that I actually benefited from. Thanks for the work done, hope with time we can reach better situations.

  • Anon

    Certainly one of the few ministers who has made concrete steps in a vital sector. What amazes me is that people seem to forget/ignore what he has inherited. A telecoms sector that was plagued by corruption, poor maintenance/infrastructure and lack of progress. The launch of 4G is a great milestone for the country, and it seems that the negative political climate in the country has made people react to all news in a negative manner.I have had the chance to test the 4G network, and I have been impressed. No doubt, it will improve as time goes by. The “highway” is far better than it was only 2 years ago.