Imad Kreidieh, chairman of Lebanon’s state-owned telco Ogero, has warned that nationwide power shortages will have a knock-on effect on his company’s ability to provide internet services, reports The National. Sustained power-rationing may soon cause ‘disastrous’ large-scale internet outages in Lebanon that could cripple the central bank, the economy and vital infrastructure from hospitals to schools, Kreidieh told the newspaper as he warned that services were crumbling under the weight of the country’s ongoing economic crisis.
Lebanon has struggled with power cuts for decades, but the problem has intensified after a Turkish company operating power barges generating around a third of the country’s electricity said last month it was ending operations due to unpaid bills and legal challenges. Ogero has been buying additional diesel generators to keep internet relay stations running – but according to Kreidieh this is costly and unsustainable due to worsening diesel shortages, whilst the introduction of solar-powered network stations remains at a fledgling stage mainly due to financing restraints. Furthermore, the chairman highlighted that Ogero is struggling to import equipment to maintain its networks as the value of the national currency continues to plummet, while the telco also has to pay for international internet connectivity in US dollars, exacerbating the company’s funding shortfall that he estimated would be close to USD20 million in 2021. Kreidieh indicated that end-user prices need to be increased to help cover costs, saying the government must make the decision to raise tariffs. Compounding all these problems, Lebanon remains in a political deadlock after the government resigned following August 2020’s devastating chemical explosion in Beirut.
Despite the major challenges, Mr Kreidieh confirmed that Ogero is continuing with its plans to expand fibre-optic broadband access – albeit at a much slower pace than previously expected. An intended four-year fibre-optic rollout programme began in 2018, but ground to a halt in late 2019, with virtually no work carried out on the project during 2020, before deployment resumed in 2021, the chairman reported, adding that: ‘Despite financing difficulties, Ogero has been adding 1,500 to 1,600 new subscribers to the fibre-optic network per month.’ However, he calculated that Ogero needs approximately USD80 million in additional funding to complete the network rollout.