Executive, Lebanon's Business Magazine Jan 2001, Issue 21, page 8
QUOTE-- Lebanon's telecommunication links could be routed through Syria Big brother Does it really make sense for the economy or autonomy of a country to direct all its telecommunication links through a neighboring country? If an agreement made public last month is realized , Lebanon's phone, television and, most importantly, Internet connections will all go via Syria. Various issues are touched upon in the agreement, including privatization, the postal system, international calls and Internet access, according to a source at the Lebanese ministry of post and telecommunications (MPT).

With regards to the Internet, all connections would be centralized in Syria. And instead of using satellite technology, the plan is to build a land network running from Lebanon through Syria and onto Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. "Setting up land lines will cost the government less than investing in satellite technology," says the ministry official. But Kamal Shehadi, managing director of Connexus Consulting, disagrees: "Being connected to other countries through Syria doesn't make economic sense." This new system of telecommunications is supposedly designed to benefit the business communities in both Syria and Lebanon.

According to the ministry official, having a joint system will allow for cheap international calls, relieve phone bottlenecks in highly populated areas and connect distant villages. "Syria has one of the best telecommunications sectors in the world, and it's better for us to use their lines to reach Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, rather than using the Cypriot, Greek or French networks," says Nasri Khoury, secretary general of the higher Lebanese-Syrian council, who participated in the talks.

Those comments would surely evoke more than a few guffaws. Shehadi affirms that Lebanon's eastern neighbor has so far missed the global technological revolution. "Syria has the worst telecommunications sector in the Arab world, with the exception of Yemen, and having all Internet services centralized in Syria is a recipe for disaster," he says. "This would mean that Lebanon will never be able to offer a better Internet service than the one offered in Syria." More importantly it can be viewed as an infringement on Lebanon's sovereignty.

According to Shehadi, the telecom agreement would give Syria complete control over the flow of information into and out of Lebanon. What other country would allow its telecommunications network to be routed through and controlled by a more powerful neighbor? According to a technology expert in Lebanon, this agreement is just the first in a conceited move by the Lebanese and Syrian governments to censor the media and, more specifically, the Internet. The expert adds that the Syrian telecommunications authority has issued a public tender for the installation of a sophisticated Internet monitoring system that will identify users by name, address and proximity to the nearest police station. What the Lebanese government should do is focus on the liberalization and privatization of the

telecommunications sector in order to move into the 21 st century. Liberalizing the sector would involve the passage of a modem telecom law, the creation of an independent regulatory body as well as the conversion of the cellular BOT contracts into licenses. And privatization is just as essential if Lebanon ever hopes to become competitive and viable in the New Economy. Telecommunications is evolving at an extremely rapid pace; even the most advanced governments in the world can't keep pace with the private sector. Most countries have realized the necessity of moving away from state monopolies through privatization. "The future of Lebanon hinges on the government's ability to create new jobs and one of the most promising sectors is information and communication technolo-gies (ICT)," says Shehadi. "But if the telecom agreement with Syria goes through, it will kill liberalization and halt any kind of progress. We need a new set of telecom policies that will benefit this country, not childish agreements that will send us back into the dark ages." By Marwan Naaman --
UNQUOTE-- There's a picture of the MPT building with written under it: "Why not just move the MPT - and all other ministries - to Syria?"