Thursday, 17 June 2010

Message in a bottle


Lebanon is, in many ways, an intricate blend of Third World (sorry, Developing World) bribery and rabid, no-holds-barred capitalism. You can do what you will, but it will cost you and the man providing the service might well take his cut, too.

Case in point: The government and the Internet.


So, the Lebanese government makes oodles of cash off the back of cell phone charges. The standard rate for a minute is 0.33 USD. That’s ridiculously expensive when you consider the average Lebanese income. 60-70 per cent of the country owns a cell phone. Do the math.


Now, the government is moving to protect this income stream by banning VOIP programs (that’s Voice-Over-Internet-Protocols, or video chat programs to the luddites out there). Nice move guys, nice move.


This is just part of the latest lesson in Self-Servicing Economics 101 delivered by the government and really boggles the mind. There’s a law up for debate in parliament that would do all sorts of unpleasantness to Internet users.


There are several wonderful measures concerning the ability of a new, unelected, body to take personal data for use in various investigations. But, perhaps the most ridiculous one is the levy on all Internet transactions.


Bizarre.


Western Union is evil and must be
punished 

Lebanon escaped the financial storm of recent times relatively unscathed thanks to some responsible fiscal policies. Now they’re in a position to reap the benefits and, by all accounts, the money is rolling in due to minimal taxation.


So… here’s a great idea. Let’s tax Internet transactions of any sort size or shape. Genius.


At a time when Lebanese Internet speeds are ridiculously slow and overpriced (at home I have a 512kb connection for $50 p/m … and that’s fast) the government is struggling to attract investment due to a decaying infrastructure. … So … instead of incentives … they start taxing….


I have an image of a guy with an abacus sliding beads across the bars. Time to join the 21st Century methinks.


The debate has actually been postponed at present thanks to, wait for it, an Internet campaign. Who’d of thought it?