Gulf News filed a Reuters report today on moves to improve Lebanon's internet access. The headline alone made me laugh, "Lebanon unveils faster, cheaper internet amid political bickering'. That's one of those 'Man found dead in cemetry' headlines. Nothing happens in Lebanon without political bickering.
Lebanon, as those who know it will attest, is a beautiful country of rich soil, glorious countryside and home to a fascinatingly diverse people capable of great cleverness. Beirut can be sophisticated, sexy as hell and enormous fun. It is also home to crushing poverty. And it's all strung together with public infrastructure that sometimes defies belief. From the rocky power grid (power cuts are still commonplace) through to the state of the roads, you're often left wondering quite how so much physical, intellectual and financial wealth sits alongside such tottering examples of failed governance.
Listening to the Ministerial addresses to ArabNet is helpful to reaching an understanding of this, I find.
Lebanon's internet is cited in today's story as being the 'world's worst... the country is always much lower down the rankings than many less developed nations such as Afghanistan or Burkina Faso.' The story goes on to recount, in shocked tones, how a 1 Mbps connection in Lebanon costs Dhs 279!!!
Errr. Hello, GN? That's about what we're paying here in the UAE. A one meg DSL line is Dhs249 a month, 2 Mbps costs a whopping Dhs349 a month and you'll pay Dhs549 for a 16 meg line. If you want the highest available speed from Etisalat, you can get a 30 Mbps 'Al Shamil' line for a mere Dhs699 a month. That's $191.5 to you.
I'm not even going to mention that the Japanese home gets an average 60 Mbps line at a cost of $0.27 per megabit month. Not even thinking about going there. Oh no.
Now the promises being made (because the story is, tragically, predicated on a promise not an actual physical delivery of service) are that Lebanon will get a minimum access speed of 1 Mbps for $16 per month. That would bring it in line with markets like the UK. I genuinely hope the promise (made to Reuters by Lebanese telecoms minister Nicola Sehnawi) comes through - although Ogero might have something to say about that - for two reasons. First and foremost so my friends in Lebanon can stop gnashing their teeth and throwing laptops against the wall in frustration. The selfish second reason is that it would add pressure on the TRA to finally act and bring down the ridulous broadband prices here in the UAE - prices that are undoubtedly a key factor contributing to hindering the adoption, use and the growth of the economic opportunity derived from technology in the UAE today.
(The image at the top of the post is one of my favourite things, BTW. It's the first sketch of 'the Internet')