The availability of a high-quality internet service is a luxury unavailable in Lebanon. Securing such a connection, which is relied upon for the operation of most sectors and is involved in everyday activities, has turned into a challenging task for most people. As the frequency of connectivity interruptions increases and speed continues to decrease, individuals as well as institution’s work becomes paralyzed and their productivity declines; sometimes to complete halt.
The increasing and urgent demand for internet services to conduct business and basic functions has become a defining feature of the Corona epidemic. The loss of this service threatens to isolate Lebanon from its surrounding which will accelerate its current crises and lead to stronger collapse. There are many reasons attributed to the frequent interruptions and decline of service quality. Some of those are natural, such as the weather conditions and storms in particular. However, the critical issues lie elsewhere. What are experts saying about these reasons?
Communication technology engineer and expert Maroun Helou tells Janoubia that: “Lebanon is still relatively behind in terms of internet speed for several reasons, such as the failure to modernize the infrastructure which has been rapidly developing on the global scale. In Lebanon, the infrastructure capacity is already at its limits and cannot handle any increased traffic.”
Regarding the causes of the sudden interruptions in connectivity that frequently occur during the afternoon, which represents peak hours, Helou asserts that: “Due to general lockdown policies and e-learning live stream education, the network load becomes too burdensome on a network suffering from decay and lacking in periodic maintenance. Lack of maintenance has been partly due to the inability to acquire the spare parts priced in foreign currency.” It is noteworthy that the process of soliciting internet services costs a total of around $4m annually, separated into $2m for operating and maintaining the submarine cables, and $2m internet service fees paid every three months.
However, why is the internet connection fast in some areas and slow in other areas? Here Helou explains that: “The internet service suffers more greatly in remote areas due to maintenance delays and being further away from the center. It is further weakened in mountainous areas due to the formation of fog. As for Beirut and nearby areas, connection speeds are faster due to the fiber optic infrastructure plan that was rolled out in the capital Beirut during the first phase.”
Helou also talking about other issues facing the internet service such as the: “Need for transmitting and broadcasting stations to improve the signal and power generators and fuel to sustain them during increased power outages.” Increased power outages have had a significant negative impact on the quality of service according to Helou. He concluded by saying: “We have yet to confront the big problem that is looming in the event of the lifting of subsidies. The government does not seem to have this sector within its priorities, yet the internet companies are still pricing their fees based on the official 1500L.L/USD rate.”
The question then becomes: If the subsidies are removed, will the operating companies survive having to pay the new exorbitant prices?