Blackouts impacting connectivity in Lebanon, warns Ogero boss

Blackouts impacting connectivity in Lebanon, warns Ogero boss

Lebanon’s continued rationing of electrical power in the face of national shortages may prevent state operator Ogero from providing internet services, its chairman has warned.

Local news outlet The National quoted Ogero chief Imad Kreidieh as saying that the ongoing limiting of power consumption could cause internet blackouts across Lebanon which would have a “disastrous” impact on the country’s economy, central bank, and essential infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

Power cuts have been an issue in Lebanon for decades, but the situation is set to deteriorate significantly following Turkish electricity provider Karadeniz Powership’s announcement last month that it plans to shut down its operations in Lebanon. The firm generates around a third of Lebanon’s electricity.

The Turkish firm claimed that it had been considering the action for weeks, and has attributed the decision to the fact that it was owed 18 months of overdue payments. Its announcement came swiftly after two of its ships were seized on the order of a Lebanese prosecutor in relation to allegations of corruption. Karadeniz Powership has dismissed the accusations as baseless.

Kreidieh noted that while Ogero has been acquiring extra diesel generators to ensure power supply to internet relay stations, this solution is both expensive and unsustainable in the face of increasing diesel shortages. He added that financial restraints have hampered the introduction of solar-powered network infrastructure in Lebanon, with the technology still at an early stage.

TeleGeography notes that Lebanon’s continued economic crisis is another major factor; Ogero is finding itself increasingly unable to import network maintenance equipment, and while the value of the Lebanese pound is imploding, the operator is still required to pay for international connectivity in US dollars.

Kreidieh estimated that this would put a US$20 million dent in Ogero’s funds for 2021, meaning that the operator would need to cover the costs by raising prices for end users. However, this decision would need to be taken by the government – and Lebanon’s political parties are at loggerheads after the previous government resigned in the wake of the disastrous chemical explosion that tore through Beirut in August last year.

While the situation is doubtless fraught, Kreidieh stated that Ogero will persist with its fibre-broadband access expansion, but noted that the deployment will inevitably be slower than originally planned. Ogero began a planned four-year fibre optic deployment in 2018 but progress stalled towards the end of 2019 and effectively stagnated throughout 2020, only resuming in 2021.

Kreidieh estimated that Ogero required a further US$80 million to complete the rollout, saying: “Despite financing difficulties, Ogero has been adding 1,500 to 1,600 new subscribers to the fibre-optic network per month.”