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Telecommunications: a symbolic sector?
Published on 23/12/2009 in L’Orient - Le Jour
A page of Lebanese politics turns. Of course, this government is not ideal. But one thing is certain, it has a margin of manoeuvre. What better opportunity for the political class to finally prove to the Lebanese people that it truly cares about them and their aspirations?

The telecoms sector could be the vector for this change in the way of doing things. This would require that the Minority, which has been assigned the portfolio, agree on strategy and implementation with the Majority. The stakes are enormous for the State, which could prove its ability to act in a key sector but even more so for the economy, as every international expert agrees, telecommunications are a powerful vehicle for growth.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, every 10% increase in the rate of mobile telephone penetration adds an extra 0.73% to the gross domestic product (GDP). The impact of the Internet is even more marked. Every 10% increase in the penetration rate translates into 1.4 points of additional growth.

Now in Lebanon, the margin for increase is still very high. If the country was a pioneer in the 1990s, today it is clearly lagging behind. Not only compared to Developed countries but also compared to our neighbours, like Jordan for example. A report by the Arab Advisors Group ranks Lebanon 14th out of 19 countries in the region in terms of connectivity. The underdevelopment reflected in this ranking is related to problems of pricing and quality of service, although recently reduced, the price of mobile phone calls and Internet in Lebanon are among the highest in the region.

This lag affects everyone because telecommunications is a widely used service. Today, the sector is a matter of general despair so any progress in the field will, inescapably, be felt by everyone.

But as is so often forgotten, telecommunications is also and perhaps most prominently a tool for business. Some businesses operate with an economic model entirely dependent on this service. As it turns out, Lebanon has the potential to be particularly competitive in the category of enterprises with high added value; Media, IT, Call Centres. Whatever our respective political affiliations, we cannot fail to recognize that it is beyond unfortunate to have arrived at a point where a minister files a complaint against a clerk because the administration does not provide businesses the service to which they are entitled! What a waste, those thousands of jobs Lebanon looses out on because it has not been able to create the infrastructure necessary to host a "media city" or some other incubator for new technologies.

Government projects are numerous: privatize the mobile networks at last and license Lebanon Telecom to create healthy competition between the three operators, which will benefit consumers, finally admit Lebanon to the era of broadband by liberalizing licensing access to fibre optic cables or microwave frequencies, enable the Telecoms Regulatory Authority to effectively exercise the powers conferred upon it by Law 431 instead of perpetuating sterile competition between it and the Department of Telecommunications.

Telecommunications could become a twin symbol: that of political compromise reached in the public interest, which could serve as a model for other areas of public policy and of the economic take-off of a service sector for which Lebanon can certainly entertain many ambitions. After all, are Lebanese experts not counted among the many executives of the largest regional telecoms companies?