Lebanon

Interview with Gabriel Deek

“The value and accessibility of e-content in Lebanon is starting to have interesting proportions”

How would you define e-content in Lebanon?

E-content is Information and Processes delivered through electronic means to provide Service to End-Users (Citizens, Communities, Companies, et al). E-content is by essence interactive, but we should not under estimate the value of linear e-content especially in those parts of the world where users lacks practice and maturity

“Traditionally, Lebanon is known to be the most prolific country in the Middle East and Arabic space, in terms of printing and publishing”

What’s the status of e-content in Lebanon?

Local e-content is available

2,110 domain names under the .lb country code top level domain

• Businesses (.com.lb) 2,700
• Government (.gov.lb) 100
• Education (.edu.lb) 110
• Network (.net.lb) 22
• Organizations (.org.lb) 288

Some additional 1,700 domain names for Lebanese businesses are under the .com generic top level domain.

All sites are mainly trilingual (Arabic, English or French)

Strategic Actions to be noted are:

  • Lebanon will promote digital Arabic content creation at the community level through partnerships with the private sector and civil society.
  • Lebanon, according to UNESCO’s Universal Declaration and Action Plan on Cultural Diversity, will design cultural policies and implement regulatory frameworks or incentives to promote the production of quality cultural, educational and scientific content and the development of cultural industries suited to the linguistic and cultural context of the users, whilst giving special attention to an international instrument of cultural diversity (the EU contribution to the Draft Action Plan of the WSIS).

With the propagation of the Internet, the value and accessibility of e-content in Lebanon is starting to have interesting proportions. Traditionally, Lebanon is known to be the most prolific country in the Middle East and Arabic space, in terms of printing and publishing. Numerous Daily newspapers, magazines, books and multiple other publications are printed in Beirut and distributed throughout the Middle East and the whole world. Furthermore, the media sector has been showing unprecedented dynamism during the past decade, all major international advertising agencies have offices in Beirut and are providing services for the whole region. TV production and broadcast is also a dynamic sector with more than 10 satellite channels covering the Middle East, two of them being ranked in the overall top three in terms of viewership.

This vibrant leading position in the publishing and media arena is not coupled with a similar dynamism in the new media – interactive media

As a matter of fact, the size of the local market is always critical to the viability of content provider. Although Lebanese consider the Middle East and the Arab space (300 million people) to be their local market, this did not provide the needed critical mass to ensure sustainability as this market has low Internet penetration compared to the West.

We have witnessed after 1999, serious developments and success stories in niche markets especially in entertainment related portals as well as e-commerce geared toward servicing the Lebanese diaspora (12 Million people).

Today more serious developments are occurring in e-business (banking and financial services, business information data banks), e-health (medical records, lab records, drug distribution), e-learning (course management and delivery, distance learning), e-culture (cultural heritage, music festivals, cinema). It is worth mentioning that the private sector was the only driving force behind the e-initiatives. Nevertheless, the government is now on the verge of launching a 1 billion dollars project for e-government and related infrastructure that will help positioning Lebanon on the road to information society.

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in Lebanon?

Several initiatives are under going:

E-Government

  • Since the mid 1990s, a wide array of ICT projects has been implemented in the public administration. Nearly all ministries and agencies have been supplied with state-of-the-art digital data and telephony network infrastructures. Most have deployed local or premises networks (LANs) and some have wider intra-premises networks (WANs). Currently, a pilot project to test a national digital secure network or intranet for the whole government (GovNet) is in the works.
  • Numerous information system applications have been developed in the public administration. These applications include Lebanese Customs systems (NAJM, NOOR and NAR), budget and payroll systems and taxation systems at the Ministry of Finance (MOF), a medical and social compensation systems for the government employees body, a commercial register system at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), a legal decision support system at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), national ID and passport processing systems at the Ministry of Interior (MOI), billing systems at several utilities agencies, several document management and archiving systems at key ministries and agencies as well as a number of workflow and business process management systems.
  • Relevant training has been completed to all users and administrators for the various customized and general system applications.
  • On the information delivery side, the following sample projects are in operation:
  • INFORMS: A project launched in 2002. INFORMS provides a comprehensive list of procedures that the Citizen needs to follow when interacting with the public sector. Each procedure is defined in detail and forms can be downloaded for manual use. The portal also contains all relevant advice and instructions
“The government is now on the verge of launching a $1 billion project for e-government and related infrastructure that will help positioning Lebanon on the road to information society

for completing the forms. (The site is found at www.informs.gov.lb). This site will constitute the basis for a government-wide future online transactional services portal.

  • Document tracking in Municipalities: Each citizen who submits an application, a request, etc, to the Municipality will be given an ID and password. Through the web, the citizen can then track the progress of his or her application.
  • All Ministries and many Agencies have informational websites.

E-Business

  • The Ministry of Economy and Trade (MOET) has completed an e-Commerce initiative as part of a two-year project that was awarded in September 2003. The eComLeb Project recommended regulations for e-Commerce, electronic contracts and e-Signature. It has also launched an e-Commerce pilot project and a Information Portal for eCommerce.
  • The e-Commerce initiative of MOET has also produced all required e-Legislation for any e-initiative.
  • Numerous private sector projects have been implemented recently especially e-Banking and eCommerce providing on-line facilities for the consumers and the corporate.
  • A good example of e-Business initiatives is Lebanon Business Network (LBN) which is a non-profit, business development vehicle. Featuring an online marketplace and a business matching database, it identifies opportunities and creates links between Lebanese entrepreneurs, expatriates, and international businesses. LBN seeks to introduce Lebanese businesses and individuals to international business opportunities, which can include strategic alliances, joint ventures, related partnerships and trading. LBN is a practical and informative resource dedicated to assisting business people from around the world in doing business with Lebanese companies. LBN tries to provide answers to common concerns, questions, and business needs.

E-learning

  • SchoolNet and Schools OnLine are two pilot projects providing ICT solutions and Internet access in schools.
  • E-learning projects have been developed at a number of National Universities
  • ICT is part of the educational program in schools and universities
  • Projects providing ICT solutions and Internet access are being done in schools.

E-Health

  • The government has utilized ICT solutions to facilitate medical and social compensations for both the public and private sectors benefactors.
  • An ICT project benefiting disabled people at social service centers throughout the country has been implemented.
  • A global ICT master plan for the National Social Security Fund has been developed with its first phase near implementation.
  • The national health insurance industry has invested heavily in ICT solutions to provide cost effective and efficient services to the insured.
  • A key initiative in this respect is the portal toubibonline.com which brings together professionals from the healthcare industry to offer customized healthcare solutions to individuals at home. It offers services in French, English and Arabic and about 40,000 visitors access it per week, 60% of which have Lebanese IP addresses.
  • There is a national strategic plan to establish a national healthcare database

E-Employment

  • Lebanon has several jobs matching ICT based systems in the private sector and most recently has developed an internet enabled system in the National Employment Office (NEO) that uses ILO job descriptions and classifications.
  • Several portals for Lebanese (local and expatriate) professionals have been developed with more being planned.

E-Entertainment

  • Lebanon has several general purpose Portals related to leisure, entertainment, news, tourism and information
  • Several Telephony Portals have been developed with more being planned to provide ring tones and graphics to mobile phones – very trendy

Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in Lebanon is advance in developing e-content?

Business and Private Sector

How would you describe the gradual progress of development of e-content in Lebanon?

94-95 First ISP’s

94-98 Static Web Sites

98-00 Interactive sites, Portals, e-Commerce

00-05 e-Banking, B2B, ASP, e-Government

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in Lebanon?

As stated earlier the major bottlenecks came from:

  • High cost of telecommunications
“The Lebanese Government is now starting to implement policies for the adoption of ICT in various levels of society and business. The Potential is very high


• Intellectual Property Law

  • Financing and venture capital
  • Size of the local market
  • Absence of Arabic enablement of the Internet

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in Lebanon?

As all other countries the situation in Lebanon is highly dependant on the Infrastructure. Nevertheless the Legal framework is also a major aspect of any development of e-content applications. Therefore a comprehensive Infrastructure and Legislation ensuring secured on-Line transactions will definitely boost all e-content development activities in Lebanon and attract regional applications and investments.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in Lebanon in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?

The ICT market in Lebanon is around USD 400 million a year with a potential to grow to over USD 1 billion. Internet penetration is 12% which is above the world wide average (6%) but lower than the UAE penetration (34%). ICT is a vibrant sector with highly skilled professionals graduating from Lebanese schools and Universities. Unfortunately an important brain drain is occurring due to the small local market and the high demand for multi-disciplinary, multilingual professionals from surrounding markets in the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. The Lebanese Government is now starting to implement policies for the adoption of ICT in various levels of society and business. The Potential is very high.

The ICT scenario in Lebanon is described by a Position Paper published by the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR). It can be summarized as follows:

Lebanon has historically been active within the international community. It now faces a potential crossroad. The choice is twofold:

  • To adopt the digital economy in a timely manner with the investments and planning it requires. This is to reap the economical and social benefits that emanate from such integration thereby joining the technological advancement in the field of ICT in the Middle-East and in the world.
  • To continue business as usual and relegate Lebanon to the status of underdeveloped country for generations to come.

Lebanon is committed to bridging the digital divide. Building upon the national ICT policy and strategy work performed in 1998, Lebanon initiated the development of a national e-strategy. This effort has produced in summer 2003 an e-readiness assessment report, a national e-strategy document, and an implementation action plan which includes the methodology, operation and phasing, in addition to identifying the involvement required from the different stakeholders including the government, the private sector and the civil society

Lebanon’s current situation

  • Basic telecommunication infrastructure is available (fixed line and mobile)
  • Value added services in fixed line services and new mobile generations
  • Traditional and modern multimedia services
  • Internet penetration rate is 12%, the third in the Arab region
  • Human capacity is highly developed for both the general population and the ICT skilled labor
  • Banking sector is developed and ready for electronic transactions with some banks offering e-banking services.
  • Ministries, agencies and the Central bank are involved and supportive of ICT related projects and initiatives.
  • ICT related grants and funds are available from donor countries and programs
  • Locally relevant content available and flourishing. By local content we mean production of electronic content in Lebanon and/or in Arabic.

Universal access

  • The Professional Computer Association (PCA) launched its PiPOP initiative (PCA Internet Point of Presence Initiative) in early 2003 and established Internet centers in over 45 villages across Lebanon. Thirty villages are planned for the next phase.
  • SchoolNet and Schools OnLine projects provide the availability of low-cost and appropriate connectivity options for schools, support the technical infrastructure nationally and coordinate connectivity initiatives for schools.
  • The Ministry of Culture (MOC) has established thirty public libraries throughout Lebanon in the last few years. These libraries constitute a viable venue for public access to the Internet.

Broadband

In Lebanon there is no broadband as of yet. A major city broadband project is under going in the Beirut Central District (SOLIDERE). It is planned to be launched by the end of 2005.

Low cost equipment

” A new educational curriculum that includes ICT skills in the program of public and private primary, elementary and secondary schools was introduced towards the end of 1988
  • The decrease of hardware prices and the simplification of software use have facilitated the spread of ICT and made it accessible to smaller firms. Prices in Lebanon for these items are as low as in the most developed nations.
  • Lebanon has increased the PC penetration rate by reducing taxes on ICT equipment and related products – zero customs duties on all ICT products.
  • Such affordable ICT costs have been affected in the presence of an encompassing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) law.

Low cost connectivity

  • In February 2004, the MPT reduced Internet dial-up rates by 42% on average. The new dial-up rates are based on a usage cost matrix. New international data rates were also put in effect reducing global Internet network access costs for ISPs by 75%.
  • The Multipurpose Community Tele-center and the PIPOP projects are modules of promoting free if not affordable Internet access.
  • The objective of Lebanon is to provide universal broadband access at affordable cost.

Internet Governance

  • In Lebanon the Internet and related information flows have been so far self-regulated by the industry itself (ISPs, media, content providers, etc.).
  • The Internet service provision industry is working on service level agreements that will guarantee the volume and quality of information flows to subscribers.
  • Lebanon enjoys transparent and democratic governance of the Internet. This is because neither restrictions nor regulations have been put on the Internet and its use by the government.
  • The American University of Beirut is insuring the management of the root server, country code top level domain names (.lb) and the IP address assignment.

ICT manufacturing capabilities

  • A good number of local companies produce locally assembled ICT products, mainly PCs.
  • The Berytech techno-pole plays a role in encouraging entrepreneurs to work through its incubator on innovative ICT products for possible commercial marketing.
  • The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) launched in 2000 a feasibility study for the Beirut Emerging Technology Zone (BETZ), funded by the US Trade and Development Agency. The study considers how necessary facilities and incentives could best be provided for local and direct foreign investment in the ICT sector through start-ups; private enterprises can best synergize with university researchers; and, local content and media may be efficiently produced and provided for online Internet dissemination.
  • As part of the new investment law number 360, the government entrusts IDAL with “participating in the capital of joint-stock companies for the establishment and management of incubators to support innovators in the fields of technology, information technology, communication and other sectors”. Furthermore, the law classifies ICT investment projects as Zone C (the highest incentives package) beneficiaries, which means that they get fully exempt from income taxes and taxes on project dividends for a period of ten years.
  • KAFALAT SAL is a joint-stock company with the Lebanese Agency for Guarantee of Deposits that operates under the Central Bank and some fifty banks operating in Lebanon as partners. It offers fast and easy to acquire investment loans up to USD 200,000 reimbursable within seven years.

Capacity building: human resources development, education, and training

  • A new educational curriculum that includes ICT skills in the program of public and private primary, elementary and secondary schools was introduced towards the end of 1998. The new curriculum allowed for practical hands-on IT lab sessions in school.
  • Over 7000 PCs for public schools have been procured by the MONE over the last 5 years.
  • As for private schools, they have computer labs and provide for the use of computers in various scholastic projects. Private schools have access to the Internet with some having their own web site and regularly publishing information of use to the students.
  • There are currently around 40 registered Universities, many of them registered in the past 5 – 8 years. Most of them offer majors in computer sciences, business computers, and management information systems. Some have launched ICT Masters Degrees and are starting to offer cooperative and Internship programs to insure proper transfer and application of educational know-how in the practical world.
  • It is estimated that universities produce about 600 computer science graduates every year. The established universities provide reasonably advanced Computer Science degrees and other ICT related majors such as Computer Engineering, Telecommunications Engineering and Management of Information Systems.
  • The Arab Open University in Beirut has recently opened its doors and is offering courses around the clock using computer lab facilities and self-paced CD Education.
“Internet penetration rate in Lebanon is among the highest in the Arab world
  • The Professional Computer Association (PCA) launched its PiPOP initiative (PCA Internet Point of Presence Initiative) in early 2003 and established Internet centers in 45 villages across Lebanon.Thirty villages are planned for the next phase. In each village, local content and community media form the basis of local web sites through this initiative.
  • A good number of national certified training institutes are available in the country adding to the education curriculum that also covers ICT education at the difference school/university levels.
  • The government has been actively training civil servants to become ICT specialists in the public sector since 1998.

Security

  • Ministry of Telecommunication (MOT) has put in place an intelligent network on the existing fixed line telecommunications network with the required security features
  • The Central Bank of Lebanon has launched the Secure Electronic Banking and Information for Lebanon (SeBIL) project for securely interconnecting national banks and financial institutions to the Central Bank.
  • Required legislation for protecting and securing electronic information and transactions is currently being implemented through an e-Commerce initiative launched by the MOET.
  • Security awareness campaigns have been launched by the private sector professional associations towards their member companies and more will follow.
  • The Ministry of Economy and Trade as part of its responsibilities in forming the ICT framework added a comprehensive awareness campaign for the legal professional body and the respective ICT associations.
  • Around ten cases of cyber-crime have been tried and convicted so far in Lebanon. The cases were tried based on the current penal laws.
  • In this respect, Lebanon is aware that existing laws especially the penal code must be reviewed to include cyber issues. The revision of the penal code related to the electronic signature has been drafted and awaiting the parliament’s consideration.
  • Comprehensive rules and penal codes related to business electronic transactions to be amended and introduced through the Ministry of Economy and Trade’s e-commerce infrastructure initiative.

Market environment

  • Liberalization or deregulation of the telecommunication sector took place through the new Telecom Law (law number 43 issued on 23 July 2002). A current project was launched in January 2003 to establish the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority provided by the new law in preparation for privatizing this sector
  • Customs duties on ICT products were totally eliminated since January 2001. The only remaining taxation is that of the Value-Added-Tax (VAT) of 10%.
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other ICT companies enjoy free and healthy competition through a national open market environment with the government constantly seeking ways to alleviate economic burdens on these companies

Intellectual property rights

  • An Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) (law number 75) was issued on 3 April 1999.
  • The efforts of the Government with the support of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have effectively reduced software piracy from 88% in 1999 to 74% in 2002. However, more is being done to reduce this figure and to reduce piracy of music and films.
  • The passage of the IPR law encouraged multinational corporations such as Microsoft, Oracle, Computer Associates and CISCO Systems to establish regional or Levant headquarters in Lebanon.

Cultural and linguistic diversity

  • Internet penetration rate in Lebanon is among the highest in the Arab world. The cultural reasons are:

> Lebanese population is open and accustomed to other cultures.

> Lebanese population is multi-lingual (Arabic, French, and English). It is affected to a lesser degree than other Arab nations by the lack of Arabic language content on the web.

> However, on a global level, much still is to be done to bring the level closer to a network society.

> Most national web sites are multi-lingual in content (Arabic, French or English) with some having all three languages.

Media

  • Lebanon was historically a heaven for books, newspapers and magazines publishers.

> Some 620 publishing houses were operating in 1998.

> About 700 printing houses exist, employing approximately 10,000 people (2001 data).

> According to UNESCO statistics, more than 100 magazines are published in Lebanon, representing a quarter of all magazines published in the Arab world.

“Lebanon is aware of the challenges facing it to be fully integrated in the new digital economy

 

> General press titles published in Lebanon exceed 1,490.

> All major newspapers are on-line.

> The main television stations have multimedia websites.

> Radio stations have websites with one broadcasting online.

Private sector

  • The Lebanese ICT private sector is well skilled and has actively participated in various information society related projects from providing schools with PCs, to offering training to the under privileged, to working out with the MOT a reduction in the local Internet dial-up and international Internet gateway rates, to pushing for the enforcement of the IPR law, and to the setup of technology and free zones.
  • The ICT private sector in Lebanon has been involved in various government strategy formulations and related projects implementations.
  • This sector hosts annually a sizeable number of ICT conferences, workshops and exhibitions, thereby playing a vital role in the transfer of technology and knowledge to the national stakeholders.
  • The national ICT sector has established a sound regional reputation successfully undertaking projects in the Middle East and Africa in addition to some projects in Europe.
  • Private sector ICT associations have developed with the involvement of national stakeholders from the public sector, academia and other private sector specializations national assessments and strategies pertaining to ICT. Examples here include the national ICT market assessment prepared by the Professional Computer Association (PCA).

Specific initiatives

  • The new investment law in Lebanon, law no 360, enacted in August 2001, provides key incentives for investment in the ICT sector on the national level amounting to ten years exemption from taxes on income and profit.
  • Work on creation of technology zones in Lebanon is intended in part to foster additional investment in R&D by both public and private sectors.
  • The establishment of ICT company associations such as the PCA, provides a platform for showcasing national ICT skills for national and regional markets. These associations also foster a network of ICT specialists.

Financing

  • Since the end of the civil war in the late 80s, Lebanon has depended on financing from regional and international donors for most development programs.
  • Through effective public-private sector partnerships (PPP), the private sector has come through in providing ICT goods and services at preferential conditions to rural areas in the country.

Conclusion

Lebanon is aware of the challenges facing it to be fully integrated in the new digital economy. Lebanon is also aware that these challenges present opportunities that could be exploited. They would result in economical gains and improve the quality of life for the Lebanese citizen. For a country that was traditionally based on commerce and services, the move to the information age is a normal and a necessary progression.

Lebanon is still facing in 2005, political and socio-economical problems it inherited from twenty years of civil war. The main challenge for Lebanon is to elevate the national priority of ICT related issues. At the same time an awareness campaign aimed at the citizen would help elevate the priority issues given to ICT.

The strategic plan of Lebanon regarding ICT is developed around the following axes:

  • E-Government providing G2C and G2B services supported by G2G and G2E services
  • National ICT legislative and regulatory framework
  • National e-Commerce initiative
  • Bridging the digital divide
  • ICT as a national priority
  • ICT as a production sector
  • ICT for socio-economical development
  • Provide an enabling environment to encourage all the stakeholders (public sector, private sector and the civil society) to join the process.

What’s the future of e-content in Lebanon?

Lebanon has a tradition in the production and publishing of literature, music and the other forms of arts and knowledge using the traditional ways. New media techniques are more and more used especially for those applications that are addressed to the Regional and International audience. e-Content production will have an amazing future with the liberalization of Telecommunications and the reduction of communication costs thus facilitating accessibility and enhancing sustainability of any developments in that sense. Some other Legal and Regulatory issues will also have to be addressed in order to facilitate financing and venture capital.
Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in Lebanon?

TV, Internet/Web, Mobile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>