|Minister announces Lebanon will launch DSL next week
|'It's a start,' says hamadeh of planned 100 lines
The long-awaited and oft-delayed rollout of DSL high-speed Internet is set to begin next week, with Internet subscribers in the country's most-populous quarters scheduled to gain access to working DSL connections this month, according to the Telecommunications Ministry. Monopoly telecom provider Ogero will hook up Internet service providers (ISPs) for the DSL network next Monday and Tuesday, while Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh will hold a public ceremony for the launch a few days later, Hamadeh said.
"Next week we'll have the first 100 lines in operation," Hamadeh told The Daily Star on Thursday. "It's a start."
Internet service provider IDM, for example, will begin on Friday signing up customers who live in Jounieh, Tripoli Mina, Zahle and Saida, as well as in the Beirut areas of Mina al Hosn, Riad al Solh, Achrafieh, Ras Beirut and Bir Hassan, said IDM executive director Maroun Chammas.
In addition to the above nine locales, other areas in Greater Beirut and Jbeil are scheduled to be connected by the end of May. In all, DSL connections will be available in 23 of Lebanon's 200 telecommunications districts, known as central offices, by the end of May, Hamadeh said. In June, another 13 central offices will tap into the DSL system, including outlying regions such as Akkar, Hamadeh said.
He said the ministry plans to create 45,000 DSL connections this year and another 100,000 next year, but questions remain as to how the ministry will reach such a figure. The ministry's goals for DSL penetration far exceed Ogero's capacities, while the recently founded Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has vowed to ensure that demand for DSL is met in a timely fashion.
Ogero has told ISPs that Ogero will be able to set up 50 connections per day, which would allow at most 7,000 users access to DSL this year, Chammas said. Hamadeh promised that the ministry would take the necessary steps to meet the projected level of demand, while TRA chairman Kamal Shehadi made clear the regulator would intervene to compel the ministry to disseminate DSL service rapidly.
"We will be taking any measures necessary, including corrective measures, in the coming weeks," Shehadi said.
Hamadeh said the ministry has plans to increase the number of workers installing DSL according to demand, which should soar with DSL prices slated for levels competitive with the rates now paid for the illegal and unreliable satellite connections used for up to 30 percent of Lebanon's Internet connections.
"Tariffs are going to be low - that's why we have to expect to have a big demand and that's why we have to get more [installation] teams," said Hamadeh. After years of delays, ISPs said they remained wary, but would wait to see how the pilot connections turn out in the coming weeks.
"DSL is not a simple technology," Chammas said. "Obviously, there is going to be a lot of troubleshooting at the beginning. The project is now starting to see the end of the tunnel."
Widespread access to high-speed Internet could provide a much-needed boost to the country's moribund economy, which has missed out on "major opportunities" because of its feeble IT infrastructure, said Carol Hage, sales manager at the ISP Terranet.
"We used to be sad when international companies would come to Lebanon and find out there's no DSL and Internet is expensive," she said.
The ministry had planned to get DSL under way last October, but the summer 2006 war with Israel delayed improvements in the undersea cable connecting Lebanon to the Internet and enabling the service.
The Daily Star