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While most social media and communication apps are available in Lebanon, certain Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (Vo IP) applications are blocked on an inconsistent basis in line with the 2002 Telecom Act. In 2010, the government-owned phone company Ogero installed equipment to block Vo IP throughout the network, but subsequently backed down under pressure from businesses, civil society, and politicians.
It is important to note that Vo IP services are mainly blocked because they cut into government revenues generated by international phone calls.
In the past, internet and mobile services had been expensive, slow, unreliable, and difficult to access, especially in rural areas and outside of the capital Beirut. Recently, however, access to the internet in Lebanon has been slowly but steadily improving under pressure from activists and businesses.
Figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) showed that internet penetration increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 61 in 2012. Broadband penetration (fixed and wireless) stands at 24 percent, although fixed-broadband remains unavailable in many rural areas. Of the estimated 1.3 million internet subscribers in Lebanon, currently 722,000 of them have 3G subscriptions. Nonetheless, 3G connections are slow, sporadic, and unavailable in many remote areas. Overall, there are around 93 mobile telephone subscriptions per every 100 inhabitants. In October 2011, the Lebanese government dramatically increased the speed of broadband internet and introduced 3G technology to mobile services.
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.
The Lebanese public has long had a strong sense of entitlement to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, particularly in comparison to many countries in the region, although in reality some of these freedoms have been curbed.
For this reason, Lebanese enjoy access to a wide variety of views and perspectives online, even if the online media landscape reflects the country’s partisan and sectarian divisions.One reason for the lack of blocking and filtering pertains to the highly-politicized landscape of traditional and new media in Lebanon. Government officials are arguably hesitant to engage in censorship out of fears that the moves could be seen as unfairly targeting one political-sectarian group.In the past, this has been shown to quickly galvanize various groups against the government or the state security apparatus, causing riots and unrest.If promises are kept to introduce positive reforms of the legal, infrastructural, and economic aspects of the Lebanese ICT sector, the country can reconfirm its status within the Arab world.If, on the other hand, the government fails to pass new legislation or worse, implements one of the many poorly-conceived laws it has proposed in recent years, Lebanon risks regressing into an oppressive online environment in which the rights to privacy and information are restricted by authorities.