We demand the Lebanese government:

1-  Improve internet connection to enable us to work form Lebanon to international companies!! now our internet connection is as fast as a turtle connection from Middle Ages!
2- Unblock all voice over IP connection right away!! blocking internet sites is a big set back for the Lebanese economy

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Lebanon is stifling your digital freedom
By Imad Atalla


No one has noticed, but the Lebanese government is writing yet another chapter in the endless mockery of our rights as private citizens and social entrepreneurial agents of progress and change. The state is extending censorship over the remainder of our liberties into the last frontier of freedom – the internet and its supposed neutrality.  Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a cost effective and sometimes free way of long-distance voice calling and video conferencing. It is also illegal in Lebanon, according to the telecoms law of 2002. Unlike Instant Messaging, VoIP allows users to speak from phone to phone via the internet. While extremely economical for average consumers and businesses, it greatly reduces revenues to the (monopolistic) landline network and, in some cases, wireless telephone companies – read Ogero, MTC, Alfa, and the Finance Ministry as the direct beneficiaries of long-distance communication revenues.

Last week the Telecommunications Ministry began implementing the short-sighted telecoms law to the letter: It activated new hardware and software equipment to enforce the ban on VoIP communications. The new equipment, which was tested in recent months, now effectively blocks internet telephony for good.   As a consequence, part of my office-to-office business communications and videoconferencing with companies outside and inside Lebanon have come to a halt. And this is probably the case with many others, such as telemarketing centers, outbound support centers, and businesses that also use VoIP.

Unlicensed international outbound calling outlets, present in every neighborhood, are probably nearing bankruptcy as I write. International inbound call centers, licensed by Minister Gibran Bassil in 2008, must also be affected. It is not clear why Skype, an online albeit not phone-to-phone service, hasn’t been blocked yet, even though the service is in clear violation of Lebanon’s telecoms law. 

Even if you have never used VoIP, you should be very concerned about your diminishing cyber liberties. Unlike the haphazard and farcical General Security directorate’s model of intellectual censorship, which tells you what you can and cannot say, the Telecommunications Ministry has decreed a form of censorship telling you what you can and cannot do over the internet.

Blocking VoIP in the 21st century is similar to blocking television broadcasts in the 1980s. You have every right to be outraged. 

Rampant political corruption and bad governance in Lebanon notwithstanding, this telecoms aggression fulfills the national motto of serving the plutocracy of wealth and power at the expense of average citizens and small business owners. Blocking VoIP to safeguard state revenue from international calls amounts to a financial transfer from consumers directly to the government and the few, never audited, telecoms monopolists the government controls. 

Typically, consumers switch to the competition if a service provider constrains service usage. But in our case the government has a complete monopoly over the industry. It owns the water pipe, and all we get is a lousy drop in exchange for paying exorbitant prices that are among the highest in the world. 


Lebanon thus joins a host of dictatorial or pseudo-democratic countries that in the past have blocked, or continue to block, VoIP. The list includes such honorees as Belize, Panama, China and the United Arab Emirates. In many cases around the world, VoIP blockades were made to censor freedom of expression, to protect corrupt practices, to harness national security, or to pave the way for the provision of the same VoIP services, but this time by those who blocked it! In other words, do not be surprised if Ogero soon starts offering VoIP as the sole provider to the Lebanese market. 

The government treats telecoms as a revenue source rather than as a public utility like water and electricity. This stifles the growth of a robust digital economy, and VoIP is only a small example. Compare your internet speed and the price you pay with those in Jordan, for instance, and you’ll realize that you’re being taken for a digital ride. 

Faster services for lower fees are easy to realize; unfortunately the evidence came in 2006 through the microwave transmission that was installed in the Barouk during Marwan Hamadeh’s tenure as telecommunications minister – however scandalous it was to allegedly buy bandwidth from Israel.

Lebanon’s private sector and consumers need technology and state-of-the-art tools to compete in world markets. Lebanese professionals are competent enough to market their skills in telemedicine, telemarketing, IT, and specialized remote support industries. However, they lack the technology infrastructure to compete. The digital economy could invigorate the job market and generate tax revenue to the treasury. 

The degree of trampling over civil liberties has increased by yet another megabit, and you, the private citizen, are swallowing each and every bit, one slow bit at a time. In any normal country, one would contact his or her parliamentarian to complain, or write to the ministry in protest. For the technically savvy, one option around the blockade is to set up an encrypted VPN or Bound-IP to thwart Ogero from blocking your VoIP. But introducing such measures requires knowhow, aside from being a violation of the telecoms law. 

Where do civil society groups stand on this core issue? Are they still busy creating awareness about how to lobby local municipalities for water and decent roads? This is not necessarily a call for telecoms privatization, it is high time for a digital user protest and concerted lobbying efforts by consumers, entrepreneurs, and activists alike.


Imad Atalla is head of the Prontis Corporation, a software firm, and publisher and editor of Kazamaza magazine. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::




Speed of the Lebanese digital world – bottom list – The turtle will cross a mile before uploading a picture with the current speed of the internet in Lebanon


The best countries in which to upload data to the Internet are South Korea (18Mbit/s), Latvia (12,6Mbit/s) and Japan (11,1Mbit/s). The worst-off are Yemen, Sudan and Lebanon.The index also measures the quality of each country’s broadband connections, and here SA fares much better, coming in 28th overall and falling well within what is defined as a “desirable” connection quality.Lithuania, Moldova and Tunisia come out tops in the household quality index, with Egypt, Bahrain and Lebanon faring worst. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral