Lebanon clamps down on illegal operators

TRA forbids installation of unlicenced telecom equipment
Dr. Imad Hoballah says the TRA is tackling the issue of illegal operators in Lebanon
Dr. Imad Hoballah says the TRA is tackling the issue of illegal operators in Lebanon

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Lebanon's telecom regulator, the TRA, has issued a circular calling on all owners of buildings, broadcasting stations and antenna towers to help the government prevent illegal telecom operators from providing services.

Recipients of the circular have been asked to refrain from installing "any communication device on their owned or rented properties" if the new operator has not obtained the required licence for the device from the TRA. The move appears to be part of a wider strategy by the TRA to tackle the problem of illegal operators in Lebanon.

Dr. Imad Hoballah, acting chairman and CEO of the TRA, told CommsMEA that while the regulator was "trying its best" to stop the illegal operators, it also had to recognise the fact that in some locations, they are the only operators providing services. "Then it is a double whammy - you're doomed if you stop them and doomed if you don't," he said.

He added that the regulator was looking at the feasibility of offering some of the illegal operators the chance of gaining licences.

Hoballah said that the TRA had already planned some regulations to allow some of the illegal operators to gain licences, but was waiting for the government to decide on a policy.

"The faster the policy is made by the government, the faster our regulations are sent to the Shura council and the faster it is that we issue licences, and those illegal operators will be either out of business or they will get official licences to operate in Lebanon," Hoballah said.

The TRA's campaign against the illegal operators is likely to be strengthened in the next few month when it implements a new Spectrum Management and Measurement System (SMMS).

The SMMS, which has been donated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is expected to be up and running in the next four months, will help the TRA to plan, manage and monitor spectrum, according to Hoballah. It will also help the TRA to limit interference between users and reduce the illegal use of frequencies.

Lebanon, which has among the highest prices for telecom services in the world, has had a problem with illegal ISPs for a number of years and some analysts estimate that unlicenced operators could account for some 40% of the country's internet market.

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