The United Nations Human Rights Council last month declared access to the Internet a Human Right [Read the full report here]. We, at Cedarcom, adopted this call and have repeatedly endorsed Broadband access as a basic human right in Lebanon since 2009, through letters to the Telecom Ministry, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), and the Prime Ministry.
Cedarcom, the private sector’s flag-bearer in the push for fair competition and consumers’ rights in Lebanon’s telecom sector, and the largest wireless broadband operator in the country, is already challenging the drive by the government to monopolize the Internet sector through unfair competition.
Cedarcom firmly supports introducing and implementing the latest technologies in Lebanon. But it is equally insistent on transparent regulations and fair competition as stated in Telecom Law 431/2002, issued to provide a framework for governing the telecom sector and set the rules for its transfer to the private sector. The TRA was mandated by Law 431 to license, regulate and monitor the telecom sector in lieu of the Telecom Ministry.
We also firmly believe in protecting the consumer’s right to choose the best service, at the best price. This right can only be protected if the telecom market is competitive and liberal. It is only through fair competition that Lebanon can strive to become one of the fastest Internet-connected countries in the world.
Whereas the Internet and mobile technologies are widely used in Lebanon, the telecom sector faces a monopoly threat as well as lack of investment confidence and transparent regulations:
If these problems are not addressed by the government, this will impact negatively on the country’s economic growth, on Internet speed, the quality, availability and tariffs of telecom services, investor confidence, innovation and inevitably lead to a monopoly in the sector.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are now over two billion Internet users worldwide. The active users of social networking platform Facebook grew from 150 million to 600 million between 2009 and 2011.
Hence the May 2011 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. It asserts, “The Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.”
“Indeed, the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the report adds.
But it cautions, “The Internet, as a medium by which the right to freedom of expression can be exercised, can only serve its purpose if States assume their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet. Without concrete policies and plans of action, the Internet will become a technological tool that is accessible only to certain elite while perpetrating the ‘digital divide’.”
The UN Special Rapporteur concludes: “Unlike any other medium, the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. By vastly expanding the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is an ‘enabler’ of other human rights, the Internet boosts economic, social and political development, and contributes to the progress of humankind as a whole.”
The UN report says ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. “Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.”
Cedarcom has long embraced the call for Internet access as a human right. The Lebanese Telecom Association (LTA), of which Cedarcom is a founder and member, in an open letter to former Telecom Minister Charbel Nahhas in June 2010 on its vision for a reformed telecom sector, wrote that Broadband services must be a human right for every Lebanese by 2016.
The letter said “this goal can be achieved by setting the right policies and taking the appropriate decisions to build the Broadband infrastructure through a partnership between state operators and licensed private operators, [and] enforcing fair competition in a transparent manner.”
In Lebanon, there were one million Internet users out of a population of 4,125,247 in June 2010 and 222,000 Broadband Internet connections (according to the ITU).
The local market and the inflow of foreign investments are suffering from a lack of clarity and certainty about telecom policy management in Lebanon. This, together with low Internet bandwidth and excessive connectivity prices, has stopped Lebanon becoming a regional business and telecom hub.
Broadband access is no more a luxury. Like liberty, it has become an inalienable right for citizens and businesses everywhere.
Through this blog, we at Cedarcom hope to open a dialogue with customers and readers on telecom issues in Lebanon as we continue to defend the rights and interests of both end-users and private operators in Lebanon.
We will update you on developments in the telecom sector and our push for proper legislation and free market competition.
While we stand ready to answer your questions, we look forward to your support of our campaign to make Broadband access a Lebanese human right.
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