ICT: Flip the switch

Or give us a bet­ter rea­son it’s off

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

In fact, it could be a lot faster im­me­di­ately, at very lit­tle ef­fort or cost. A new state of the art net­work of fiber op­tic ca­bles has been in­stalled con­nect­ing some 350 cen­tral of­fices around the coun­try (where in­ter­na­tional ca­pac­ity is de­liv­ered be­fore it reaches the end users), to many heavy users — such as hos­pi­tals, uni­ver­si­ties and busi­nesses. This net­work is ac­tu­ally de­signed to serve all of the coun­try, down to the last hovel.

This fiber op­tic back­bone, how­ever, is turned off. That means the fiber is in the ground, con­nected to the var­i­ous modems, routers and switches, and ready to go. But there is cur­rently no data travers­ing it. The “switch” — or more ac­cu­rately se­ries of de­vices in the cen­tral of­fices — has not been turned on. This comes in spite of in­ter­net speeds be­ing in­creas­ingly cited as a fac­tor of eco­nomic growth. In low and mid­dle in­come coun­tries, a 10 per­cent in­crease in broad­band pen­e­tra­tion has cor­re­lated to an ad­di­tional 1.38 per­cent in GDP growth, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Union’s re­search pre­sented in its Im­pact of Broad­band on the Econ­omy 2012 re­port.

Turn­ing on the switch would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on Le­banon’s in­ter­net speeds. While the fiber op­tic ca­ble does not yet connect res­i­dences, it would from day one ben­e­fit the op­er­a­tions of many places such as busi­nesses and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions — where much of the coun­try’s pro­duc­tive work is done. Faster in­ter­net would also make the coun­try more com­pet­i­tive, and would draw in badly needed in­vest­ments, par­tic­u­larly in the ICT field.

From all the ev­i­dence that we have, we get the im­pres­sion that the fiber could go on within weeks. We have not been pre­sented with any re­motely log­i­cal ex­cuse ex­plain­ing why this is not the case. The switch needs to ei­ther be turned on, or those re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing Le­banon’s fiber op­tic in­fra­struc­ture need to step for­ward and give us a proper rea­son why it’s off.

While Ex­ec­u­tive is still wait­ing on sev­eral in­ter­views re­quests with peo­ple from the Min­istry of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Ogero, the con­sul­tants to the Min­is­ter of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions who spoke to us claimed that the fiber is off be­cause of cer­tain tech­ni­cal mis­takes from the com­pany that was con­tracted to do the work. The af­fected in­fra­struc­ture seg­ments are in the process of be­ing re­done, the con­sul­tants said. Though they could not spec­ify ex­actly how much of the in­fra­struc­ture ac­tu­ally needed re­work­ing, they did ac­knowl­edge that it was only a small part.

This ex­pla­na­tion is not ex­actly sat­is­fy­ing to ex­plain why an en­tire fiber op­tic back­bone is sit­ting idle, and why we haven’t al­ready put some of it to use. We’re still en­tirely re­ly­ing on what is an old and out­dated in­fra­struc­ture, mostly made of cop­per save for a small fiber op­tic loop which was orig­i­nally meant to serve as a lo­cal net­work for Ogero’s in­ter­nal op­er­a­tions. The fact that we have newer in­fra­struc­ture across the coun­try and are still mak­ing do with the old is ab­surd.

Cur­rently, both the Min­istry of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Ogero have over­sight over the tele­com in­fra­struc­ture. Th­ese en­ti­ties need to be accountable to the peo­ple for the as­sets they are man­ag­ing. The fiber op­tic ca­ble was paid for by gov­ern­ment money, and any in­vest­ment made by the gov­ern­ment has to ben­e­fit the peo­ple. The Min­istry of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Ogero need to ei­ther flip the switch or present a proper ex­pla­na­tion to the Le­banese peo­ple as to why our fiber in­fra­struc­ture is not in use, and when it will be read­ily in use.

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