MoT suspends Safico’s preliminary VoIP award as it hammers out licensing details

17 Apr 2013

Lebanon’s Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT) has confirmed that it suspended a voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) licence which it awarded to Safico last month, although it denied accusations from parliamentary critics that it awarded the permit ‘illegally’, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reports. The ministry is keen to swiftly implement a new VoIP licensing framework to combat the illegal call market as well as to kickstart Lebanon’s international call centre business sector, notes TeleGeography.

The MoT says that around 400 million minutes worth of calls per year bypass the telephone switches of state-run incumbent telco Ogero, resulting in an estimated USD100 million in lost revenue to illegal operators who control servers or soft boxes that make local calls or transform packet protocol into VoIP. Karim Kobeissi, senior advisor to Minister of Telecoms Nicolas Sehnaoui, stated that the licensing framework would allow legal termination and origination of VoIP calls, with licensees paying the state 10% of revenues. The advisor explained that Safico’s licence was suspended on 8 April to allow the MoT to revise preliminary tariff controls, to make sure new legal VoIP services were not to the detriment of existing fixed and mobile services which the government relies on as a major revenue source. A VoIP licensee must first submit a price list to the MoT, Kobeissi added, while stressing that the ministry aimed to strike a balance between competing with illegal calls – as low as half the LBP600 (USD0.39) per minute standard outgoing call rate from Lebanon – but not cutting prices to the extent that would cause a mass migration from the existing legal call services.

Critics of the MoT claimed that a new licensing framework should first be approved by the Telecoms Regulatory Authority (which operates in a largely advisory role since its powers were curtailed in 2011), the Cabinet, the Finance Ministry and the President, but Karim Kobeissi was quoted by The Daily Star as saying that the MoT was given permission from the Justice Ministry to legally award a VoIP licence last month after receiving Safico’s application.

Lebanon, Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT)