Beyond LTT: The State of Libya’s Internet
As the people of Libya rebuild their society, infrastructure, and economy after the battles in 2011 that eventually led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime, they continue the struggle for a reliable, high-speed Internet connection. Access to the web is essential for communication in a free country for both personal and business communications. According to the Arab IP Centre, before the uprising against Gaddafi, the Libyan government exercised tight control of the flow of Internet traffic, monitored electronic communications, and put limitations on the information accessed. During the revolution, the vulnerability of having a single Internet Service Provider (ISP) was demonstrated when the government essentially pulled a “kill switch” cutting off the people of Libya from the internet.
Today, many areas of Libya are struggling to the rebuild telecommunication infrastructure as it incurred significant damage during the conflict, especially in Misrata and Benghazi, where the key battles were fought. The combination of the history of Internet censorship and the crippled telecom infrastructure contribute to having the slowest internet in the world. The country’s Internet speed of less than 256K means many web applications are rendered useless causing significant limitations in the use of the web for both businesses and individuals. In Akamai’s 2011 State of the Internet report, Libya ranks as having the lowest internet speed in the world. Furthermore, Internet speeds have actually decreased in Libya while the rest of the countries, with the exception of Vietnam, have demonstrated improvement.
In today’s global technologically-driven economy, a stable high-speed Internet network is essential for business, industry, and commerce. Global trade is highly dependent on the internet for sales, supply chain management, financial transactions, and product delivery. While historically oil production drove the Libyan economy, the country will need to diversify its economy to provide the employment opportunities for the populace that will promote stability as Libya transitions from decades of autocratic rule. It is highly questionable if the formerly state-owned Libyan Telecom and Technology, which is Libya’s primary Internet provider, is in a position to provide the high-speed Internet connections needed by businesses and people to move successfully into the global market economy and the community of free nations.
The History and Performance of Libyan Telecom and Technology
Libyan Telecom and Technology (LTT), founded by Mohammed Gaddafi, began work to bring internet and telecom services to Libya in 1997 and became Libya’s first ISP in 1999. It introduced WiMAX in 2009, which is LTT’s wireless broadband service. Despite this introduction of broadband Internet access, Libya’s Internet speeds rank in the narrowband range.
The surveillance of Internet traffic prior to the fall of the Gaddafi regime, as well as the poor service provided by LTT, contributed to the low-level of Internet penetration. Only 5.5 percent of the Libyan people have internet access, which is one of the lowest rates in the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, Libya Internet speed ranks as the slowest in the region. The dissatisfaction of the Libyan people with LTT’s services is clear on the Facebook page “I Hate LTT” with its 13,258 “likes” and numerous comments complaining about the service. A notable feature of this page are all the pictures submitted by LTT users as evidence of the slow internet speed. Another issue with LTT’s Internet service is that it is limited to the major population centers on the coast.
The uprising of the Libyan people against the regime of Gaddafi graphically illustrated the problem with a country relying on a government-owned company acting as the primary ISP. Starting in March 2011, the Internet Gateway of Libya went down, effectively blocking Internet access in Libya for six months. While there were times when the Internet was accessible, its blackout not only prevented communication among the opposition and activists, but also prevented small businessmen who relied on the Internet to conduct their business transactions. This compounded the damage to the economy that Libya suffered because of the hostilities. Experts attribute the sporadic availability of Internet access to conflicts between LTT staff who supported the Gaddafi regime and those who supported the opposition.
The Need for Another Licensed Internet Service Provider
While LTT has employed Saad Ksheer, a former Information Technology executive who worked for Microsoft and NCR, as its new Chief Executive Officer, LTT remains under the control of the Ministry of Communications and Informatics. Recent reports from Libya give credence to reports that the Ministry maintains influence over the unions and labor working for LTT, thus impeding attempts to modernize services to meet the needs of the Libyan people. A recent labor strike at LTT shut down Internet service for a day, causing LTT to lose even more of the public’s confidence.
Libya needs another licensed Internet provider to compete with LTT in providing Internet services to the country; however there is no political framework to license another ISP. Recently, a new Twitter and Facebook campaign called “The Internet is Coming” suggests that there is a new private ISP trying to makes its way into the Libyan market. If true, this will greatly benefit the Libyan people since another ISP can expedite the repair of damaged infrastructure that impedes the function of a stable Internet. and break the monopoly LTT has as Libya’s sole Internet Service Provider. Additionally, an ISP that is not state-owned is more likely to focus on providing high quality and reliable services to customers as opposed to serving the needs of a government that is still in transition. Given the limited Internet service coverage areas provided by LTT, a new ISP can benefit from tapping an unserved market in the more remote areas of Libya. An ISP that provides more reliable service and that has a focus on the needs of its customers will increase the Internet penetration in Libya by increasing Libyan’s trust that internet service is both accessible, usable, and secure.
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