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French Version

LAU launches high speed wireless network (Daily Star)

Technology offered free to students
University gets multi media internet, rest of country keeps waiting

The Lebanese American University rolled out a high-speed wireless network on Tuesday, claiming the multimedia campus-wide system will be the most advanced of its kind in the Middle East.

But absent from the highly publicized press conference, which was attended by Telecommunications Minister Jean Louis Qordahi as well as high level officials from Cisco Systems and the U.S. Embassy, was any discussion of making high speed connections available to the rest of the Lebanese population, which is currently expected to pay some of the highest telecommunication taxes in the world.

"This is an incredible achievement," said Cisco Systems vice president for the Middle East and Africa, Mark De Simone. "It will make LAU the most important and visible Campus in the Middle East," he added.

Wireless networks already exist at the American University of Beirut and Saint Joseph University, but LAU's new system, which costs "over $100,000,"is being hailed as the first in the Arab world to feature a "complete, secure wireless, multimedia network," capable of processing telephony, voice, and video, according to university officials.

De Simone touted LAU as a "fantastic" university and said Tuesday's event marked a "tectonic shift" in the development of information technology across the region. "It is a natural extension of our infrastructure," Roy Majdalani of LAU's IT department, later told the Daily Star. Majdalani said the network would be offered to students at no cost, and promised no increase in technology-related university fees.

"I am very proud that while I am minister, I was able to attend such an event," Qordahi said. "I am proud of what we have accomplished in (the last) four years - probably not as fast as I would have liked, but at least we accomplished steps toward increasing the usage of technology, liberalizing the sector, pushing private companies to be more active in the sector, and trying to restructure the ICT sector from monopoly to liberalized status."

But today, despite the passage of a few pro-liberalization decrees, Lebanon's telecom sector largely remains a state monopoly, boasting some of the highest telecom tarifs in the world. For the past two years, political infighting has stalled action on the 2002 telecommunications act, which would allow for deregulation and eventually lead to long-awaited free market competition.

Over the past two weeks, however, there has been some progress, including the passage of legislation aimed at readying the country's data network for consumer consumption - a step closer to moving from dial-up to broadband internet connections - as well as decrees to establish a Telecom Regulatory Authority, expected to be running by "the early days of 2005," according to Qordahi. He said the stalemate had been broken with emergence of a new government in October.

"We haven't re-invented the wheel," he added. "We are just trying to do exactly what was done in other countries who went through the same experience before us - the Germans, French, and British who shifted from state monopolies to liberalized systems."

Christopher Murray, Deputy Chief of Mission at The U.S. embassy in Lebanon, praised the Ministry's work, Lebanon's "highly educated multilingual workforce, and LAU as a "prominent American educational institution."

"We congratulate the Telecommunications Minister for his perseverance in making these decrees a reality." The U.S., he added, was "committed to helping people around the world overcome the challenges of the digital age."

Beirut 13-12-2004
Habib Battah
The Daily Star

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