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.