To discuss the state of telecommunications in Lebanon, Executive sat down with Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) Chairman and Chief Executive Imad Hoballah. He also serves as president of the Pan Arab Observatory for Cyber Security and Safety.
A few years ago, the TRA was mandated to collect quality of service data. What is happening now?
We have it [new equipment, applications and technology to monitor services]. It has been about a month since the TRA became fully equipped and we are going through quality of service measurements throughout the country and in about three to four weeks, maximum, we will have a new quality of service report that should help with further improvements.
Will the quality of service data be published on the website or available to the Ministry of Telecommunications?
We hope that we will have good output to make available to the public. We are working towards it.
In terms of protecting against cyber attacks, what is the role of the TRA, what is the role of the ministry and what is the role of Internet service providers?
Cyber security for Lebanon is a big failure.
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And who do you think is responsible for cyber security?
We are keeping our cyberspace, telecom networks, information and communications technology networks completely open to all kinds of terrorism attacks, pedophilia, all kinds of safety issues related to children. Our cyberspace is open and if anybody minces words about the state of our cyberspace, they are committing a crime as far as Lebanon is concerned. This is the biggest problem that we have.
So do you believe it is the responsibility of the government?
No, our belief is that there needs to be a body between the private sector and the government with civil society, a multi-stakeholder environment that works on cyber security. The government cannot give up responsibility for cyber security and as such it needs to pull these people together eventually. This is a national and social security issue above all. This is a security issue.
And you believe it is the government’s role to protect citizens against cyber attacks as a security issue?
It is everybody’s responsibility and the government has a big role to play in that.
How can the Lebanon telecoms sector make itself more attractive to foreign direct investment (FDI)?
The policy cannot change with every minister that comes. It is not something that changes every six months. The people need to have consistency — predictable and consistent regulatory framework with a consistent policy. It should work. But Lebanon in general has not provided that to our investors, [nor] to our potential investors.
Isn’t that, in theory, why the TRA was created?
What is different today than when the TRA was first created that would make it more easy to attract FDI to Lebanese telecoms?
A new board needs to be given the authority, at least as it was mandated in Law 431. We are working and pushing for that with the minister.
What has been your proudest moment since you became the chairman of the TRA?
After the decision of the Shura Council [in 2011] to basically cut our feet from under us as a TRA, holding the TRA together has been the biggest accomplishment. The second biggest accomplishment has been related to cyber security and what we were able to accomplish related to the condemnation of Israel for its action against the Lebanese telecommunications network. Lastly, working with the Ministry of Telecommunications on the expansion of networks and services and the inclusion of the private sector in providing the services.
When you look to the future, how can the TRA continue to try to regulate after the decision of the Shura Council to suspend the TRA’s powers?
Whenever the government and the country are ready for independent bodies, the TRA should be an independent body financially and administratively and it should not be part of any other organization.
Do you think the country is ready for that?
It hasn’t acted as if it is ready so far.