The cost of using mobile phones in Lebanon remains among the highest in the world.

"Consumers are asked to shut their phones from Wednesday at midnight (15 July) to Thursday at midnight," Zuhair Barro, president of the Consumers Lebanon Association, which is organising the boycott, said.

"All consumers should participate, as this will cost the government $2.8m in lost revenues for the day," he said, warning: "If they fail to respond to our demands, then we will
have to escalate the action."

The move is backed by 15 bodies, including the Chamber of Industry and Trade, the Beirut Trade Association, the Women's Council as well as the unions of industrialists, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, journalists, editors and lawyers.

Tariff demands

Barro said the demands included charging consumers for seconds instead of minutes, lowering prices by 30%, cutting night-time rates by 50%, scrapping fixed monthly fees of $25 and offering pre-paid cards with extended expirations.

"Consumers are asked
to shut their phones
from Wednesday at midnight (15 July) to Thursday at midnight"

Zuhair Barro,
Consumers Lebanon Association,
president

"Lebanon has the most expensive rates in the region, and probably the world," he said. According to Barro, if a phone is shut for a month, the consumer still pays $37 in Lebanon; in Jordan it would cost $12, in Syria $11.70 in Cyprus $8.50 and in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates $5.50.

He added that 500 minutes of mobile phone calls cost $121 in Lebanon, compared to $65 in Syria, $66 in Jordan, $47 in Cyprus, $42 in Egypt and $39 in the UAE.

"We had been holding negotiations with the Ministry of Telecommunication for about seven months after which the minister presented a draft over an initial agreement to the C, which unfortunately rejected it," he said.

Battle lines

Lebanon has 850,000 mobile lines run on two networks by Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunication Company (MTC) and the German firm Detecon in return for a monthly fee of $4m each to the government.

"The government generates $800m per year from the network to pay for its annual budget deficit," which stands at about $3bn, said Barro.

"The government should allow an increase in the number of lines and cut rates, like everywhere else in the world. Instead, they are sticking to an Ottoman-style policy.

"Market penetration in Lebanon is at 26% only, so the number of lines can clearly be increased," he said.