x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Cyprus helps Lebanon reconnect

Problems with a submarine cable left Lebanon without the internet this week. A deal with Cyprus helped to alleviate the issue but Lebanon still has some of the worst internet connectivity and speeds in the world.

BEIRUT // Widespread internet failures in Lebanon appear to have been resolved after days of disrupted services.

The problems were blamed on malfunctions with the fibre-optic underwater cable off Egypt's coast that Lebanon relies on for internet access.

After a brief cut on Monday, another internet blackout occurred on Wednesday. The problem appeared to have been largely resolved by Friday, after Cyprus agreed to reroute some of Lebanon's traffic while the cable was being repaired.

Several other countries were also affected by the problems with the IMEWE (India, Middle East, Western Europe) cable. The system, which operates between India and France, has been in place since 2009.

The emergency deal with Cyprus, which said it was providing the additional bandwidth for "free", meant that Lebanon would be provided with additional bandwidth "until technical problems have been resolved", Mr Sehnaoui said on Twitter during a trip to the Mediterranean island to resolve the issue.

This latest problem has put additional strain on businesses and internet users across the country, where online connection is already slow and expensive. Ookla, a US-company that tests and compares internet speeds, has ranked Lebanon's service among the world's slowest.

Lebanon is also faced with continuing electricity problems. Parts of the country only have limited access to power, forcing businesses and households to rely on expensive generators.

Eddy Issa, the managing director of Insight Solutions - a Beirut-based IT consultancy - said the internet outages were a "big problem" for companies in Lebanon.

"Especially those businesses that are related to the internet like e-commerce, and also hotels where their bookings were affected," he said.

"It was terrible for these sectors. Emails are now mandatory and business is running through e-commerce, so getting access to the internet is not optional."

Mr Issa believes the government should have contingency plans in case of future problems with the country's primary main submarine cable.

"Think how much we lost when we lose connectivity just for a day or two," he said.

On Friday, Mr Sehnaoui, wrote on Twitter that a "redundancy plan" - that still needs government approval - would "safeguard Lebanon" from similar internet power outage problems in the future.

Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper had reported that the telecommunications ministry reached a preliminary deal with Cyprus in February for a new submarine cable, which would boost connectivity speeds, and serve as a backup in the case of future problems with the IMEWE cable.

Critics have blamed some of Lebanon's internet woes on the fact that Ogero, the state-owned landline provider, operates about 80 per cent of the market, which has pushed out private companies.

 

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Reuters