Libya’s interim government eyes ICT reform
July 2012 update: The Internet market in Libya is to become open for private companies.
In February 2011, we concluded that “a regime change will…increase efforts to strengthen broadband infrastructure and to create a national ICT policy, something that Libya is currently lacking.” Well, that time has come. Libya’s interim government shows signs of caring about ICT. However, the nation lacks adequate regulatory laws, is unaccustomed to the private sector, and will be repairing damaged infrastructure for some time to come.
When you live in country where censorship is the norm … the Internet is your only communications mechanism.” – Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, after visiting Libya in January 2012
First, some history. Censorship of the Internet, among other factors, has long hindered growth of technology in Libya. Perhaps nothing limited ICT advancement more than when Libya Telecom & Technology (LTT), under the direction of Gadhafi’s government, shut-down the local Internet for over five months last year in an attempt to suppress the rebel movement.
Libya undeniably has better fixed and mobile infrastructure than most African nations. Despite one Internet service provider and only two mobile operators (nine telecoms operators in total), Libya boasts high Internet and mobile access rates (15% Internet penetration rate and a staggering 201% mobile penetration rate!)
In recent months, however, power outages have plagued reliable Internet connectivity. Plus, infrastructure – especially cellular and WiMax – was damaged in the recent civil war. Sentiment from the ground (via Twitter & Twitter, for example) indicates frustration with the level of services. TechnoLibya has reported issues with LTT WiMAX speed and coverage, but experiences stable connections with ADSL.
Libya is looking to Egypt to form ICT policy and regulations:
- In January 2012, Egypt and Libya discussed working together to strengthen Libya’s ICT environment. Ministers from both nations exchanged ideas on creating a regulatory framework. More importantly, officials talked of the importance of empowering the people with tech skills. We wouldn’t be surprised if Libya’s regulatory body and processes mirror those found in Egypt. After all, Egypt, like Libya, does not have clean slate when it comes to Internet censorship. Therein lies the opportunity of this relationship.
The e-Libya initiative will strengthen key areas of government, education, and the economy:
- The majority of the Libyan workforce has heretofore been employed in the public sector. A drastic privatization of the telecoms companies would be ineffective. Fortunately, the e-Libya initiative aims to create an open and transparent government, strengthen e-commerce, and establish a higher level of e-learning. The construction of a strong SME culture is essential for Libya to grow economic stability.
How effective will the interim government be?
- Business Monitor International, a telecoms intelligence firm, is less optimistic about Libya’s future. Their analysis questions the interim government’s ability to reform Libyan policy. Like Khaled el Mufti, the man in charge of e-Libya, BMI is skeptical that Libya is ready for a free telecoms sector.
- Plus, economic factors like inflation, unemployment, and a sharp decline in foreign investment must be overcome. A strong business environment needs to be rebuilt.