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Nevertheless, they remain relatively high considering that, in 2011, Lebanon had a gross national income per capita of ,140, which translates to 2 per month. The relatively high prices have not deterred most Lebanese from using internet and mobile services extensively, particularly the youth.Internet usage and digital literacy, however, tend to drop with older and less affluent citizens, as with rural inhabitants. Disruptions to internet services are infrequent in urban areas, but tend to occur more often outside of Beirut and in rural areas.Average internet speeds have doubled since March 2012, though Lebanon still ranks only 151st in the world for average speeds, according to the independent Household Download Index. The Ministry of Telecommunications promised further improvements and the upcoming introduction of 4G. In the past, however, political clashes between the ministry and operators have delayed network upgrades. In addition, the ministry has been slow to respond to much-needed repairs and upgrades outside of major urban areas, although significant progress has been achieved in the past two years.The government also substantially lowered the cost of broadband internet and mobile phone subscriptions in 2011, although consumer groups maintain that rates remain significantly more expensive than in many other countries. The monthly subscription fee for ADSL starts at and reaches up to 5, including the separate subscription to a fixed phone line. The monthly subscription fee for 3G ranges from to 0, excluding the basic mobile subscription and calling fees, which average around . Just over a year ago, these prices were 80 percent higher.These many issues are often attributed to a struggling economy and constant political turmoil.Over the past year, mainstream and social media were abuzz with stories of low profile police arrests, interrogations, and intimidations that targeted online activists, bloggers, and social media users.
In fact, the past three telecommunications ministers have gone so far as to claim that the TRA has no real authority since the law establishing its powers has not yet been implemented. Tellingly, since its launch in 2007, many of the TRA’s objectives have not been met, namely the transition from analog to digital networks and the privatization of the telecommunications sector.In addition to running the internet’s backbone, Ogero sets internet prices and shares in the management of online subscriptions, together with two dozen private ISPs. Since no law regulates their licensing, private ISPs currently obtain a permit by decree from the Ministry of Telecommunications. In addition, the government has significant control over the processing and approving of user applications for broadband services, which can usually take between six to eight weeks.Crucially, political influence can significantly interfere with the allocation of contracts to private ISPs and mobile phone operators. Lebanese media and telecommunications laws are regulated by three semi-independent advisory bodies that report to the Council of Ministers.The National Council for Audiovisual Media and the Committee for Establishing Model Bylaws and Practices deal mainly with audiovisual media (TV, radio, and satellite), while the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is responsible for liberalizing, regulating, and developing the telecommunications sector in Lebanon.Overall, the three bodies remain largely powerless and fail to live up to their expectations as independent regulators in a modern state.