BEIRUT: Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah Thursday said Lebanon’s telecoms sector is one of the pillars of the economy and provides huge funds to the Treasury.

Jarrah made the remarks during a news conference at the Press Club in Furn al-Shubbak.

“Nowadays, 20 percent of people call from their phone, and 80 percent use WhatsApp, Viber or similar services. So we decided to concentrate on the data services and lower the prices,” Jarrah said, speaking from the Press Club.

Since the price for these services is based on E1 lines, which are expensive high-speed digital links, the ministry has decided to reduce that price. “This is an investment from the government, but seeing as the telecoms sector is the base of the economy, [the investment] will result in future profits,” Jarrah said, adding that this is an attempt to keep Lebanese youth from leaving the country.

The telecoms minister went on to stress the need for fast, reliable and secure methods of communication, especially for media professionals and students.

He announced the creation of a new SIM card, which will offer university students 5 megabytes of 4G internet and a large amount of texts and calls for LL 25,000 ($16.7). “This price is supported by the government,” Jarrah said. “It is only approximately 30 percent of the real price, which is another investment.”

Jarrah also discussed Lebanon’s phone and internet networks, pointing out that “there are places in Kesrouan, Tyre and the West Bekaa where networks don’t reach.”

“We are working on restoring and renovating all networks, and installing new fiber optic networks where they don’t exist, as compensation for the people, since they have been deprived of this service for the past years,” the minister said.

As for the phone lines, Jarrah said that “in Beirut, not Akkar or Hermel, there are landlines that have been out of order for a year and a half and haven’t been fixed.”

Work is also underway to solve this problem, in an effort to give the Lebanese people proper communication methods, thus bolstering the economy, he said.

Jarrah also commented on the already installed fiber optics network, which has “been there for three years and never been used.”

“The network cost the government $62.5 million, and the Lebanese people lost three years of this service for no reason,” he said. The telecoms sector, the minister said, is now “out of the hole … and will continue to advance.”

In May, Jarrah decried the “tens of millions” of dollars that have been squandered in Lebanon’s telecoms sector. “The telecoms sector has been frozen since 2008,” Jarrah said at the time, citing a number of reasons, including corruption and illegal internet networks.

 A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 07, 2017, on page 4.