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French Version

Solidere inks deal to make all of BCD an Internet 'hot zone'

Real estate firm will spend $5-$7 million to wire capital

Solidere, the real-estate company largely credited with jumpstarting the Lebanese economy, will now give the countries' fledgling Internet technology sector a boost by offering wireless Web access throughout Beirut Central District by the end of 2006.

Mounir Douaidy, the General Manager of Solidere, said on Tuesday that the project will help Beirut reclaim its role as a regional business hub, since the availability of "Internet and multimedia services has become the decisive factor in choosing any business or residential destination."

"The Beirut Central District Broadband Network (BCD-BBN) will result in the upgrading of Beirut's telecommunication potential, giving rise to added business activities and creating new jobs (in the process)," Douaidy told reporters at a press conference at Solidere headquarters.

Solidere has signed a buy-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement with France Telecom subsidiary Equant to deliver multimedia services via the Solidere Operation Center.

Equipment from Cisco Systems will support a fiber-optic broadband network, bringing wireless Internet access to all public spaces downtown and giving commercial and residential occupants the option of subscribing to video-on-demand, video conferencing and closed-circuit television services.

BCD-BBN will initially cost Solidere between $5 million and $7 million. Fadi Moubarak, Cisco's sales manager for the Levant region, declined to offer an estimate of subscription rates.

"They (rates) have not been decided yet, but will be competitive," he told The Daily Star.

"It really differs from country to country and depends on which services are chosen."

Solidere's announcement coincides with an economic juncture in Lebanon. While both the public and private sectors continue their campaigns to attract foreign investment, the government has stalled the full-scale privatization of certain state-owned companies.

In April the Cabinet approved a 50 percent decrease in the tariff for Internet service providers to connect to the state-owned international Internet cable, paving the way for foreign Internet service providers to install and manage DSL operations in Lebanon. But despite earlier commitments, the Telecommunications Ministry was slow to increase the capacity of the international Internet connection to meet the projected demand.

A ministry statement Tuesday indicated that telecom deregulation was finally back on track, however. Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamade announced that he will ask the Cabinet to green-light plans to upgrade the existing IT infrastructure to accommodate DSL and improve Internet service.

The ministry hopes to complete by September an agreement with the British company Marcioni to increase the capacity of the international cable more than threefold, to 10 gigabytes per second from the current 3 gigabytes.

Lebanon's cable capacity currently is one of the lowest in the region, trailing Saudi Arabia and Jordan (15 gigabytes) and Egypt (4 gigabytes).

Beirut 31-05-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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