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Harb: Telecoms languished in the past

From left, Minister Boutros Harb, speaks with Joseph Torbey and Francois Bassil in Beirut, Monday, May 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb Monday said his predecessors failed to adopt sufficient measures to improve the country’s telecoms sector.

“When I came to office, I discovered that the ministry was not really working in favor of Lebanese citizens or for the improvement of the telecoms sector,” Harb said, accusing previous ministers of using the Telecoms Ministry mainly to benefit their political objectives.

“Some employees were even fired from the ministry because their political views were not in line with the ministers’ and were unfortunately replaced by less-skilled people,” he added.

Harb’s remarks came during a lunch debate organized by the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce held at Le Maillon in Ashrafieh in the presence of prominent figures from the telecoms sector.

Harb said the style of work adopted by the previous ministry had a very negative impact on the spirit of teamwork among the different departments. He added that many projects had been put on hold due to a lack of coordination among the different managers inside the ministry.

“For instance, some of the projects such as fiber optics were put on hold because one of the ministers decided to revoke the contract with Ogero, which is responsible for connecting citizens to the service,” he said.

Harb said previous ministries had been able to make good achievements but they did not fully benefit from the investments they made in the sector.

He added that the work at the ministry was not going smoothly because one of the general managers who is responsible for 80 percent of the ministry’s operations had been shunned over the past two years. “It’s very obvious that this is a wrong approach because huge amounts of money were spent during that period on the telecoms sector without getting any positive results in return,” he said.

He argued that in the past two years the ministry had spent $650 million on mobile networks without any noticeableimprovement in the quality of service. “It had also spent around $100 million on the fixed network, and some people nowadays are not able to install a fixed line in their houses because the only way to do it is through personal connections at the ministry.

“This is why the first thing I did when I came to the ministry was to hold a meeting in the presence of all directors to encourage them to work in teams,” the minister said.

Harb said his first aim when he assumed his responsibilities at the ministry was to put politics aside and work to benefit the Lebanese people.

He also defended his plan to cut the cost of landline subscriptions, pre- and postpaid mobile calls and Internet data plans.

“Many companies would definitely enjoy operating from Lebanon but they do not do so because of the high Internet tariffs and the low quality of phone calls,” he said.

The Cabinet Friday voted in favor of three proposals by Harb to cut the cost of landline subscriptions, pre- and postpaid mobile calls and Internet data plans.

Effective June 1, subscribers to postpaid mobile lines will benefit from an additional 60 minutes of free calls in exchange for the current $15 monthly subscription fee, while the rate of calls on prepaid mobile lines would be reduced by around 30 percent from $0.36 to $0.25 per minute.

The registration of a new landline will come at no cost, as opposed to a previous $33 onetime fee, while the monthly subscription fee will be reduced from $8 to $6.

As for Internet data plans, a subscriber to the 2 megabits per second data plan will enjoy a quota of 40 gigabytes at a monthly $19, compared to the current rate of $50 per 20 GB, while the cost of the HDSL service will be reduced from $150 to $83, and the quota doubled from 40 GB to 80 GB.

For the time being, however, only Ogero will be able to offer the improved services, as other ISPs will need to wait until additional E1 lines are provided in order for them to boost the performance of their services, an industry insider said.

The financial impact of the rate cut will be assessed in a report to be filed to the Cabinet by Harb.

“We have conducted a study about this matter and we will be submitting it to Cabinet soon,” he said.

Harb argued that the new prices would initially lead to a slight decline in the ministry’s revenues, but that would be offset in the medium to long term by a growing base of subscribers, provided the government upgrades the telecoms infrastructure.

“The [rate] drop on the landlines services caused an increase in the ministry’s revenues by 30 percent,” he said in support of his new plan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 20, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb Monday said his predecessors failed to adopt sufficient measures to improve the country's telecoms sector.

Harb said previous ministries had been able to make good achievements but they did not fully benefit from the investments they made in the sector.

He added that the work at the ministry was not going smoothly because one of the general managers who is responsible for 80 percent of the ministry's operations had been shunned over the past two years.

The Cabinet Friday voted in favor of three proposals by Harb to cut the cost of landline subscriptions, pre- and postpaid mobile calls and Internet data plans.

Effective June 1, subscribers to postpaid mobile lines will benefit from an additional 60 minutes of free calls in exchange for the current $15 monthly subscription fee, while the rate of calls on prepaid mobile lines would be reduced by around 30 percent from $0.36 to $0.25 per minute.


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