Mobile network ecosystem
The telecommunication regulator in Lebanon is al-Hay’a al-munazzima li-l-ittisalat (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority - TRA), which was established in accordance with Law 431 of 2002 as an independent public institution designated to liberalise, regulate, and develop telecommunications in Lebanon.
According to this law, licenses to providers of mobile phone services are awarded by decree issued by the Council of Ministers, upon the proposal of the Minister, after conducting an international public auction, and according to specifications and conditions prepared by the TRA. Beyond issuing licenses and regulations, the TRA is also responsible for developing the sector, monitoring for any abuse of dominant market position and anti-competitive practices and taking remedial action when necessary. However, also in this field, the current situation provides ample evidence that this provision offers scarce protection to consumers. Through the two national mobile companies (see next paragraph), the government maintains a substantial monopoly in the sector, which results in a lack of competition in the market that has kept tariffs relatively high and delayed the expansion of network services to underserved areas, such as rural zones and large parts of the Biqa‘ valley.
According to a survey conducted by Jordan-based research and consulting firm Arab Advisors Group about the cellular market in the Arab world, Lebanon has the highest prepaid cellular package rate in the Arab world by May 2018. Lebanon detains the first position in the chart since several years, in comparison with the cell rates of 48 mobile phone operators across 19 Arab countries, ranked on the basis of their prevailing mobile rates, including applicable taxes.. In parallel, the survey indicates that the validity period of a prepaid recharge card in Lebanon is 30 days, the shortest among Arab countries. The two mobile phone companies operating in the country require prepaid cards to be recharged every 30 days, penalising users who miss the deadline by seizing their remaining credit and then deactivating their line, forcing them to buy a new one
In addition, the costs of internet packages and bundles to use Whatsapp, Facebook, etc. with mobile connection follow the same trend, resulting among the highest in the MENA region. The already heavy situation was worsened by the decision of the Ministry of Telecommunication to introduce the so-called “Whatsapp-tax” by January 2020, a tax that would apply on the Voice over IP (VoIP) services, charging a daily fee of US$0.20 for a maximum of US$6 a month. The decision, taken during the deep economic crisis, faced the popular frustration and anger, igniting the protests that soon reached a national scale.