VoIP Broadcasting in Lebanon Banned Again

By Juliana Kenny

TMCnet Web Editor

Conducting phone calls and video conferencing over the Internet has been illegal since 2002 in Lebanon, but civilians have been able to get around the fine print of the law for years using voice broadcasting for business communications.
However, last week, the Telecommunications Ministry began enforcing the law to the T when it, “activated new hardware and software equipment to enforce the ban on VoIP communications,” according to  a Lebanese news source. This recent technological development by the government, “now effectively blocks Internet telephony for good.”
Hosting total control over Lebanon’s access to the Internet, the government-installed hardware that regulates the country’s Internet usage has not effectively blocked Skype  yet, for some unknown reason.
As a result, business communications have come to a grinding halt, and inbound and outbound call centers that have not been licensed by Minister Gibran Bassil have been negatively affected all over the country.  

Reflecting the broader problem of government censorship in general, this reinforcement of preventing voice broadcasting over the Internet contributes to civilian outrage. The opinion that, “Blocking VoIP in the 21st century is similar to blocking television broadcasts in the 1980s,” is prevalent throughout Lebanon’s business communities, and leads to the suggestion that the purpose of the regulation is, “to pave the way for the provision of the same VoIP services, but this time by those who blocked it.” In Lebanon specifically, one wireless telephone company such as Ogero or Alfa might soon make offers of available VoIP technology, but the company might be directly financed by the government who then collects the revenue.
Treated as “a revenue source rather than as a public utility like water and electricity,” the telecommunications industry in Lebanon is well on its way to becoming entirely government-regulated. Instead of embracing the new and ever-developing digital economy, the Lebanese government joins the ranks of authoritarian countries such as the UAE, China, Belize, and Panama by blocking all VoIP usage.

Regrettably, the denial of access to Internet voice broadcasting leaves Lebanon behind in the worldwide movement towards digital freedom. By limiting VoIP altogether, the government has effectively limited Lebanon’s progression into the online landscape.

Juliana Kenny is a TMCnet reporter and editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.