The chart above is a supposed leaked copy of the new internet rates passed in parliament last week. Astonishingly, it says speeds and caps will be doubled and an “unlimited plan” will be released. This is huge news for us in Lebanon, because unlike many other countries, you can actually run out of internet every month when you exceed the government’s minuscule bandwidth caps that begin as low as 4GB and only go as high as 25 GB for consumer packages.
Now caps will begin at 40GB and go up to unlimited, which would be a huge leap forward. But is it for real? A few days after the charts were leaked, the ministry put out a statement saying that the media had inaccurately reported the new packages. Yet a close reading of the actual statement on the MOT website only reveals that inaccuracy was related to the release date (this week) and not the packages themselves, which it said would be released on June 1st.
So why did it take this long? And how is it technically possible? I distinctly remember asking an advisor in the previous telecom administration two years ago why unlimited data and faster connections could not be offered. He and many other officials told me that it would be “impossible” to do that because such a move would overload the system. He made the analogy of turning on an air conditioner while the generator is on. “You’ll pop the disjoncteur,” he said using the french term for circuit breaker, as is commonly done in Lebanese arabic.
The only solution, he and other officials have constantly touted, is the establishment of a fiber optic network to replace the existing antiquated copper one. But the multi-million dollar plan to do that is not completed yet and has actually been delayed numerous times for unclear reasons, as I reported in an investigative piece last summer.
Meanwhile I also asked Lebanon’s biggest ISP why unlimited plans were not available and he told me there was simply no market demand. “The caps we have today are very adequate to what we perceive as being needs of residential customer,” he said.
So what changed? Suddenly the copper wires are fine to carry unlimited bandwidth and suddenly the market is ready for unlimited internet?
Or should we take this announcement with a big grain of salt? After all, the last time a telecom minister touted super fast internet, very little changed. In fact despite the minister’s claim that he was advancing the country “12 years into the future” and creating a “world-leading” tech industry, today I am still paying around $100 per month for one of the world’s slowest internet connections–which is not far from what I was paying 7 years ago in 2007 for what was the slowest internet then.
One big difference with the current minister is that he has not been making so many grandiose statements, throwing lavish parties or giving away prizes at press conferences as previous telecom ministry administrations have done to celebrate their own hype. Could this be a good sign?
— Thanks to Sea Jay for pointing out the leaked chart.