A recent poll shows that Libya's only Internet service provider is as good as its competition.
Libya’s Telecom and Technology Company totes the slogan, “We are not only the best, we are the only ones.” But Internet users, questioned in a September poll conducted by qurynanew.com, would beg to differ. “The Internet signal is weak and you have to climb to the roof to receive it,” read one comment taken from the poll; which reads similar to hundreds of others like it.
This complaint, in fact, did not vary from 378 answers of subscribers who criticized the services and performance of the government company, which has monopolized the Internet services market in Libya since its foundation in 1997.
Ziad Al Zayani, a software engineer at the Ras Lanuf Oil & Gas Processing Company, is one of the respondent subscribers who accused LTT of monopolizing Internet services and providing poor services at high prices; suggesting that it does not commit to the contract in terms of Internet speed and network coverage. Zayani, among others, demands that LTT be closed and that foreign companies be allowed to enter the Libyan market.
The citizens' complaint about the LTT week services is not new. After the revolution, some cities witnessed demonstrations demanding improved Internet services and increased or unspecified monthly bundle volume (US $24 per 15 gigabytes).
Head of LTT Media and Publishing Department, Murad Bilal, considers these demands 'legitimate'. However, he attributes poor service to damaged and vandalized terminals and towers during the revolution (such as Brega terminal that connects the east to the west of the country), by the former regime loyalists or by those who steal electrical cables to sell them later. He says that foreign maintenance companies refuse to enter Libya due to insecurity.
Bilal, who is the LTT spokesperson, blames the former regime, insisting that “LTT had no independent will; its policies were subject to the will of Gaddafi and his son Mohammed, who did not wish or seek to introduce modern technology to improve performance.”
Bilal also acknowledges the existence of irregularities against subscribers, citing the absence of consumer protection culture and the 'submission contracts' method that prevailed under the former regime.
Half a bundle volume for full price
Menem Drilo, a subscriber to WiMAX, complains that LTT sometimes charges subscribers the full value of the bundle even though they use only half of it. "This," says Bilal, "could happen as a result of an error or failure in the system."
Will the LTT management listen to Menem and other affected people? Bilal says no. LTT, according to him, has shortcomings in human resources and allocates only six employees to respond to the calls of its 250,000 subscribers. Personal relations of customers are the only way to deliver their complaints.
In the climate of freedoms prevailing in Libya after the revolution, Internet popularity has increased because it was a key factor of the revolution’s success, and the most rapid and versatile source of news and information. LTT however suspended WiMAX packages, which has made their prices rise on the black market from US $129 to $402.
Bilal justifies this suspension by the endeavor to avoid 'more victims'. “We have been working for three months on the installation of new towers, and we will resume selling these packages after resolving the network problems and equipping it fully in February 2013. Then, we will release four WiMAX packages and four IDSL packages, with a variety of monthly bundles,” he added.
With growing demands to stop monopolies and open the Libyan Internet market to foreign companies, questions are raised about the LTT’s ability to change its current policies. “Transitional authorities want to continue this monopoly, so policy will not change. LTT also does not have free will, but is subject to the will of the Libyan Post, Telecommunications and Information technology Company, to which it is affiliated,” Bilal said.
“Could local companies provide high-quality service instead of the entry of foreign companies, such as in the United Arab Emirates, so as the state benefits from the large incomes of the telecom sector?”, Bilal wondered.
Breach of power
The situation within LTT seems uncertain. Its chairman is the CEO himself, which Bilal considers as “breach of the powers balance. Complaints by the chairman are submitted to him as the CEO, which makes him both the litigant and the judge."
Bilal suggests a state of disharmony among the staff and the management coming from outside the country. “Though constituted of Libyans, external management do not fit in with the improperly established work environment, such as LTT, which turns a successful person in an institution outside Libya to someone confused or just an ordinary employee,” he explained.
“The current chairman, Saad Kashir, is not used to the problems and work nature in the company. LTT has been losing since 2005 and is undergoing a crisis. We need a manager of the crisis; we need an orchestra conductor,” he added.
There are fears that inconsistencies may hinder the Next Generation Broadband Network (NGBN) project, a fiber optic network planned to cover Libya at a speed of 100 Mega bytes by the middle of next year. This will facilitate services of third parties, such as television channels and homeschooling lessons through the internet. “In order to succeed, the project should not come face to face with the policies inside LTT,” Bilal said.
The situation within LTT increases the frustrations of subscribers, and some of them are growing impatient. Eng. Ziad Al-Zayani says: “They are not the best, but they are the only ones.”
Although the UN report issued on March 4, 2011, considered depriving of having access to the internet a violation of human rights and even of international law, this right remains suspended in Libya, among the list of rights that are awaiting realization.