[zawya] Telecommunications Minister Gibran Bassil proposed on Wednesday a new plan for the privatization of the telecommunications sector in Lebanon that would give the public and the government a controlling share in the country's mobile phone companies. "The new privatization plan should give to Lebanese nationals the right to invest in the telecom sector, while the right to management will be granted to an operator who will be also having a share in the company," Bassil said.
"Privatization does not mean that the entire telecom sector should be sold to non-Lebanese. The state can either be a partial or a full partner in any telecom company," he added.
Bassil's remarks came on the sidelines of the 13th session of the Arab council of the ICT ministers held at Habtoor Grand Hotel in Beirut. Discussions during this year's meeting revolved around several ICT issues pertaining to Arab societies, including promoting the General Arab ICT Strategy and developing information communities with a focus on three strategic aims - creating a competitive market for the Arab information community, ensuring universal access and improving the quality of services through ICT.
Bassil stressed the importance of creating LibanTelecom Company, which will group the entire government-run telecom sector under one umbrella, before going into privatization.
"We are keen on preserving a high income for the Lebanese treasury by adopting the strategy of dividing the profit, and investing the amounts that come out of this operation in sectors that are in need of rehabilitation such as the electricity sector," he said. "The amounts are also needed to reduce the public debt," he added.
The government has previously missed several chances to sell the lucrative cellular sectors to private companies in an attempt to reduce the $47-billion public debt. The previous government was hoping to fetch close to $6 billion from the sale of the cellular networks. However, political turmoil and assassinations in 2007 prompted the previous government to call off the auction.
Bassil emphasized the role that rapid advancements of telecommincations can play in terms of economic and social development, as well as increasing the productivity of the industrial economy.
"This rapid advancement is capable of raising revenues that will reduce the public debt, create more job opportunities and bring back to the country the skilled and experienced Lebanese expatriates," he said.
The new strategy of the ministry in the second half of 2009 aims at reaching 2.2 million cellular lines with 1,500 stations, he said, in order to be able to increase mobile penetration from 32 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2009 and 80 percent by 2010. "We are aiming at reducing the cellular billing rates from $74 in 2008 to $55 in 2009, $40 in 2010 to finally reach $20 in the future," he added.
In January, the Cabinet had announced its plans to slash mobile tariffs by 40 percent and calls by 15 percent as part of a drive to increase usage of mobile devices.
MTC Touch posted a subscriber base of 1 million at end-March, up from 836,000 at the end of 2008. Alfa had a subscriber base of 820,000, up from 600,000 at end-2008. The rise in subscriber base has led to a growth in Lebanon's mobile penetration from 37 percent to 47 percent.
"On the internet side, DSL centers increased from 23 in 2008 to 83 in 2009, and we hope to be having a total of 200 centers by the end of 2009 to cover all of the Lebanese territories in 2010," he said. Bassil added that DSL subscribers increased from 45,000 in 2008 to 105,000 in April 2009.
In other remarks at the conference, Jordan's minister of information and communications technology, Bassem al-Rousan, urged the Arab ministers to work on creating a digital regional Arab communication network to guarantee the efficiency and facility of data transfer.
"Arab governments should invest in regional networks and encourage the private sector on investing in such projects by establishing a partnership between the public and private sectors," he said.
Bassil proposes new plan for privatizing telecoms sector