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Harb vows to boost Internet speeds

Ogero Telecom building in Bir Hassan, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s telecommunications minister promised to boost the average Internet connection speed across the country in “a couple of months” after the implementation of a set of measures aimed at regulating the sector.

Boutros Harb told The Daily Star that his ministry was in the process of drafting a new set of regulations to crackdown on unlicensed Internet providers and those providing illegal international call services that were costing the treasury millions of dollars in lost revenues annually.

The Telecommunications Ministry had announced in June that the entry-level digital subscriber line plan, priced at $16, would be upgraded as of the beginning of July to 2 Mbps with a 40 gigabyte data usage cap, as opposed to the previous 1 Mbp and 4 gigabytes of data.

However, many DSL subscribers across Lebanon have benefited only from an upgrade of their monthly data transfer quota, while the bandwidth has yet to increase due to delays in the allocation of additional capacity for Internet service providers by Lebanon’s telecom regulatory authority Ogero.

Harb said that Ogero would be gradually allocating more capacity to ISPs in the coming few months as the Telecommunications Ministry sees the implementation of a set of newly drafted regulations within the sector.

ISPs have for some time been requesting additional capacity from Ogero to boost the Internet speed for existing DSL customers, as per the Telecommunications Ministry’s advertised data plans, according to Khaldoun Farhat, the CEO of Terranet, a leading Internet service provider in Lebanon.

However, Ogero has yet to approve their request, Farhat added.

According to the telecom minister, Ogero has been reluctant in the past to allocate additional capacity for ISPs due to a lack of regulations and weak monitoring of the use of capacity for illegal services.

However, this is about to change, Harb said, as the Telecommunications Ministry restores trust with the sector’s regulatory authority after years of political bickering between the two sides.

According to a telecom expert who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ogero could increase the capacity allocated for ISPs without buying additional capacity, on two existing submarine telecommunication cables.

Ogero has also yet to complete necessary infrastructure and software upgrades at service points, which are basically hubs connecting end users to ISP’s networks or the national network, if they are Ogero customers.

According to Imad Tarabay, CEO of ISP Cedarcom, the Telecommunications Ministry raised false expectations among Lebanese Internet users when it advertised the newly approved data plans but failed to provide a specific timetable to turn these promises into real actions.

Article six of the decree issued by the Cabinet upon the proposal of the Telecommunications Ministry stipulated that the new data plans would become effective July 1 “provided that the required technical modifications can be implemented.”

According to the new data plans by the Telecom Ministry, for $50, subscribers can get 2 Mbps of bandwidth with an unlimited download plan. Previously, the bandwidth was capped at 20 gigabytes.

The implementation of unlimited download plans, which resulted in increased monthly usage by users while failing to carry out the necessary infrastructure upgrades, have led to a deterioration in the quality and speed of DSL services across Lebanon, Farhat said.

“Individual users have been spending more time online as a result of the implementation of unlimited quota plans, but the infrastructure has not been upgraded to handle this increased usage,” Farhat said.

A deteriorating user experience has resulted in a large increase in the number of complaints received by ISPs recently compared to the period that preceded the implementation of the new data plans, Farhat added.

However, some Internet users, such as subscribers to Data Service Provider Cable-1, a partner of Terranet, have already started enjoying upgraded bandwidths, Farhat said.

Cable-1 installs and upgrades its own equipment at certain service points that connect around 40 percent of Terranet/Cable-1 subscribers.

However, it comes at an increased cost for digital service providers. DSPs such as Cable-1 lease the additional required capacity from private satellite providers at a rate of around $300 per Mbp, two to three times what it costs to lease capacity from Ogero, according to Farhat.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Lebanon's telecommunications minister promised to boost the average Internet connection speed across the country in "a couple of months" after the implementation of a set of measures aimed at regulating the sector.

The Telecommunications Ministry had announced in June that the entry-level digital subscriber line plan, priced at $16, would be upgraded as of the beginning of July to 2 Mbps with a 40 gigabyte data usage cap, as opposed to the previous 1 Mbp and 4 gigabytes of data.

ISPs have for some time been requesting additional capacity from Ogero to boost the Internet speed for existing DSL customers, as per the Telecommunications Ministry's advertised data plans, according to Khaldoun Farhat, the CEO of Terranet, a leading Internet service provider in Lebanon.

However, some Internet users, such as subscribers to Data Service Provider Cable-1, a partner of Terranet, have already started enjoying upgraded bandwidths, Farhat said.


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