BEIRUT

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3G still on track despite Shura Council ruling

BEIRUT: As some 4,000 Lebanese take 3G for a test-drive this month, battles continue to rage between the Telecommunications Ministry and Cedarcom, an Internet Service Provider petitioning for the technology’s suspension.

Cedarcom has taken legal action against the ministry, alleging that the government had not taken the proper legal routes to release the new service.

This week, the Shura Council ruled in Cedarcom’s favor, ordering the ministry to suspend 3G for a month pending further deliberations, the daily, Al-Akhbar reported Monday.

However, that ruling was deemed to be non-binding, according to a source at the ministry.

The council had taken up a similar lawsuit filed last month by Global Com, an ISP owned by Cedarcom CEO Imad Tarabay, and ruled against it, effectively annulling later decisions on the issue, the source said.

The two companies commissioned to provide 3G, Alfa-owned MIC1 and MTC-owned MIC2, have not received required licensing, Cedarcom said.

But analysts and media groups have said that there are ulterior motives for Cedarcom’s actions. The group is the largest provider of mobile broadband, a technology that’s expected to receive a heavy blow from faster and cheaper mobile Internet service, 3G.

Tarabay declined to comment on the proceedings when he was contacted by The Daily Star.

The 3G service, touted by officials as a “revolution” for the Lebanese economy, is now in its pilot stage, with 4,000 Lebanese currently sampling it before its official release next month.

The exact date of the release, however, has not yet been satisfied.

Testers are said to be enjoying speeds of up to 7 MB per second, a far cry from the existing WAP mobile connection which runs at roughly 25 KB per second.

That connection wavers as users venture away from Beirut, however, since most of the service’s infrastructure converges on the capital.

Tarabay has on various occasions voiced some strongly worded complaints against the Telecommunications Ministry, which he said has greatly sidelined the private sector.

Taxes levied on private telecommunications companies are among the highest in the world, a condition that some technology analysts say has led the sector to dire straits. Lebanese Internet is considered to be one of the slowest in the world.

High government control prompted officials to try to liberalize the sector. Those efforts culminate in Law 431, issued in 2002 and enforced in 2007, which created a government entity, named the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

It was tasked with liberalizing the sector, privatizing some major government entities, including 3G providers MIC1 and MIC2.

Many say, however, that those efforts have come to nil.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2011, on page 4.

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