Telecom Minister Corm's ministry mulls tariff increase

Press Highlights
2023-03-22 | 02:45
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Telecom Minister Corm's ministry mulls tariff increase
Telecom Minister Corm's ministry mulls tariff increase

The telecommunications sector in Lebanon is not living its best days. Instead of being the primary source of revenue for the state treasury, it has become a heavy burden on it due to the continuous deterioration of the value of the Lebanese lira, which negatively affects the revenues in Lebanese pounds.

As the concerns of the private sector and its plans, "Nidaa al-Watan" newspaper spoke to Caretaker Minister of Telecommunications Johnny Corm.
Here is the Q&A of the interview:
- Lebanese citizens are suffering from slow internet speed. What are the reasons behind this decline in service quality? And is there an inclination to raise tariffs at Ogero?
The ministry is suffering from energy and generator problems, as between 3 and 4 generators break down daily because they need to be updated. The ministry was preparing to purchase 300 generators through a tender before the crisis, with funding secured in Lebanese currency. 
This article is originally published in, translated from Lebanese newspaper Nidaa al-Watan.

However, in 2020, the number decreased to 26 generators due to the rise in the dollar exchange rate, and they were not purchased. Additionally, the budget allocated to the ministry was canceled.

As soon as the current generators are fixed, they break down again. Due to the liquidity shortage in the ministry and OGERO, we have to increase the amount of oil in these generators instead of replacing them. We have not been able to install solar energy.

We cannot hide behind our fingers, as the situation is not ideal. We are fully aware of the size of the problems at hand. Still, in the absence of aid from donor organizations and funding from the government, we only have a few options except to have self-sufficiency to manage things as best as we can.
 As for the increase in tariffs, the expenses of the Ministry of Telecommunications today exceed its income, as the previous increase did not bridge the gap created by the insane rise in the dollar's exchange rate. 

When that increase was approved, the dollar was worth 20,000 LBP. Still, today's exchange rate has exceeded 115,000 LBP, which means a large deficit between income and expenses. 

However, nothing has been decided yet as the ministry is currently working on a mechanism capable of adjusting the tariff to balance income and expenses, taking into account the importance of this sector and the citizens' right to communicate on the network. Increasing the tariff requires approval from the State Shura Council first and then the Cabinet.

Regarding the issue of paying the salaries and wages of OGERO employees, the Council of Ministers approved the payment of their dues for six months of the year 2023, as well as settling their dues for the year 2022. 

There was no new addition for them, as some may have understood from the Council of Ministers' decision. All rumors about resignations in the sector are just rumors. The ministry is working to address the issue and keep up with it.
- What did the emergency plan I discussed with the two mobile companies entail?
I want to remind you that the mobile tariff is linked to the exchange rate, and when we linked it to Sayrafa platform, we reduced the price by a third. 

Today, we receive a lot of criticism for the high prices, but we have no direct influence on Sayrafa's price. 

Theoretically, if Sayrafa's price returns to 1500 LBP, we will have reduced the price by a third. We worked according to this direction, but in light of the current situation in the country, an increase in Sayrafa's price contributes to the rise in prices. 

For this reason, we held an emergency meeting on Monday with the management of "Alfa" and "Touch" to develop an emergency rescue plan to ensure subscribers do not disconnect from the cellular network. 

We requested that "Alfa" and "Touch" start providing their subscribers 30 free minutes with every $7.5 card purchased, beginning Thursday and for a limited period.

We are continuing to monitor the progress of the plan. We have given our instructions on the need to provide incentives to subscribers to stay connected to the network. 

We adopt the standard that subscribers remain connected to the network, as this is their right. 

A mobile phone is no longer a luxury as it used to be, but a necessity. It is our duty to ensure continuity, not only of the network but also of communication on the network. To this end, we will have regular meetings to follow up on this issue in all its details.
- Do you plan to offer subscribers additional incentives?
Indeed, everything is possible, but any decision is subject to the results of the change associated with the Sayaraf rate. We will have routine meetings and closely monitor the current economic situation to take the necessary actions to alleviate the burden on citizens as much as possible.
- What are the latest steps related to combating illegal internet activity?
Through article number 4 of the recently issued decree, the ministry has been able to establish a task force to deal with illegal internet activity. We have obtained data for 105 out of 108 companies, which has allowed us to access information on approximately 600,000 subscribers that the government was previously unaware of and not receiving any revenue. We are working according to this plan and hope to collect revenue from all companies soon.

I want to note that subscribers pay their dues to the company, which is supposed to pass on the government's share. 

However, some companies have not been doing this, so we have taken necessary action and will begin charging these companies for all subscribers on the network. It is essential to clarify that law 126 stipulates that the state solely owns the entire network in Lebanon.

The only solution is for the state to control this network and activate competition. 

Then, subscribers will not be bound to a specific company or person. This way, we protect the subscriber, making the situation sound and fast.

- What will the ministry do if the auction for "LibanPost" is not completed by May?

I had previously stated that the ministry of post has only four employees, which means its capacity to handle mail directly is limited. 

However, we have few available options, and we will be forced to handle this facility as it is ultimately a public facility, and we will do the impossible to perform this task.

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