BEIRUT: The Cabinet agreed on Friday to allocate funds sought by the Ministry of Telecom (MoT) for the installation of fiber optic cables across Lebanon, in a session that also allocated appropriated funds for the Electoral Supervisory Commission.
In a session headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a settlement was reached with the MoT after the Cabinet approved L.L150 billion ($100 million) in funding for the fiber optic project.
Telecom Minister Jamal Jarrah had initially sought a budget of L.L225 billion after the Finance and Budget Committee excluded funds allocated for the fiber optic project from the new draft state budget. The total cost of the project, which will be implemented over a four-year period, amounts to $300 million.
The MoT has been trying to secure funding for the installation of fiber optic cables since the government-owned Telecom provider Ogero slashed Internet prices by an average of 50 percent in June of this year, with other private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) following suit.
Although the price of Internet packages significantly decreased, the average speed of bandwidth remained unchanged, as Lebanon’s telecom infrastructure is outdated with obsolete copper wires still linking households, corporate offices, hospitals, and universities to Ogero’s central offices.
Jarrah has vowed that installations would begin in the coming weeks, assuring that Lebanon would soon be on par with the rest of the industrialized nations.
The MoT has begun making headway in its efforts to boost Internet speeds already, after it reached an initial understanding with the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority, increasing its share in the telecom cable linking Lebanon to France through Cyprus from 310 Gb/s to 1920 Gb/s.
This share increase will then be manifested in an expansion of Lebanon’s available capacity, estimated to rise from 60 to 600 Gb/s.
Increasing Lebanon’s share in the cables that link it to the world is essential to boost the country’s speed locally, as Internet users connect to international servers.
Although the Cabinet session was also expected to debate the biometric ID proposal, which proponents argue will help safeguard the integrity of the election process, no immediate information was made available by Ministers.
However, opponents are of the belief that this proposal seeks to postpone the election and extend Parliament’s term for a fourth consecutive time under the pretext that biometric IDs will not be issued on time.
Making his way to the session, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk asserted to reporters that the election will indeed be held on time, saying that his “Ministry has earmarked $130 million for the biometric card proposal.”
According to Information Minister Melhem Riachi, the remaining difficult issues will be discussed at next week’s parliamentary session to be held at the Presidential Palace.
These include a bill recently sent to Parliament seeking to suspend increased payments for public sector employees if no new taxes are introduced, as well as a second bill to amend a tax law aimed at funding the salary increases which was recently overturned by the Constitutional Council.
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