BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati Tuesday called on caretaker Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui to explain allegedly illegal licenses issued to Internet companies.
In a letter sent to Sehnaoui and released publicly, Mikati called on the minister to explain his justification for granting licenses to eight Internet service providers with approval from the Cabinet.
Mikati said the Lebanese state would not bear any financial or administrative responsibility toward companies that received licenses contrary to the law.
Sehnaoui promptly responded to Mikati’s letter, insisting that all of the licenses were issued in accordance with the law and reminding the prime minister that the signature of a minister is binding to the Lebanese state under Article 66 of the Constitution.
The minister, who criticized Mikati for sending the letter to the news media instead of discussing it with him directly, explained that the ministry sent a memo to the country’s two mobile operators, Alfa and touch, authorizing the firms to contract with Internet companies to resell 3-G data service.
Sehnaoui said his ministry had called on the mobile operators to sell the 3-G data service only for electronic tablets and dongles.
The minister said that the contracts between the cellular firms and ISP companies were signed in 2012.
Sehnaoui described the contract between the ministry and ISP companies as normal.
“These [contracts] are in line with the existing international trend to encourage the growth of mobile Internet service in comparison with fixed Internet,” the minister said.
He said the mobile Internet service providers were only allowed to sell data and not to use the voice system, which is the exclusive right of the cellular companies.
Sehaoui also rejected Mikati’s argument that the licensing runs contrary to Law 431.
“Law 431 was never implemented up until this date based on the decision taken by the Shura Council,” the minister said.
Law 431, which was passed in 2002 to govern the privatization of Lebanon’s two state-owned mobile operators, requires Cabinet and parliamentary approval before privatizing the country’s telecoms.
Last week, an Arabic language newspaper published a report accusing Sehnaoui of issuing licenses to eight companies without receiving formal approval from the Cabinet or passing through the normal procedures.
The newspaper said the licenses were illegal because they were in clear violation of the existing laws.