I was reluctant to participate in this competition at first as I knew how far we are from realizing inventions such as Nano-Robots or flying cars, not because we lack the intellect or the brains, but because we lack the infrastructure and technical resources to do so. Nevertheless, optimism, transparency and perseverance are in my opinion good enough resources to drive any change or reform in Lebanon or in any country, provided that you have a pragmatic approach and a feasible plan.

Among the many challenges that Lebanon is faced with today, I believe the biggest and most important is the internet as we are missing out on a major digital revolution and have a lot to lose here. Added to that, and as so eloquently put by my friend Mustapha, skipping a technology generation might have “potentially disastrous consequences to the competitiveness of our workforce, a problem that not only is not being acknowledged but that we have absolutely no plans to address”.

My Idea
Having said that, what I want to propose is a 3-steps plan that will hopefully bring the internet revolution to the Lebanese community, more specifically to its young and promising generations, and at the same time speed the process of reform and increased transparency in the country. I am personally not a fan of big ideas, and I wouldn’t have proposed this if I didn’t think it was feasible on the short run and more importantly sustainable, knowing how complicated and corrupt things are in Lebanon. Added to that and this is quite sad, a good project initiated by one minister or government in Lebanon may be discontinued by the next one for pure political reasons, which is why I tried to involve the private sector as much as possible into my idea.

Step1: Come up with New ISP
Lebanon’s population is a young one just like most countries in the Middle East and those who are most affected by this technological gap nowadays are students in schools and universities as they are the ones who will be shaping the future of Lebanon and forming its new workforce. Having said that, the time required to upgrade all of Lebanon’s network and provide unlimited, abundant and cheap internet to all the Lebanese seems a bit far-fetched at the moment. At the same time, coming up with digital districts in Beirut strictly (to be followed by other districts in keys cities) will create a gap between the Lebanese themselves, in addition to the technological gap we are all living, which is unfair and unacceptable. For that purpose, I recommend creating a new ISP by the Telecom Ministry linked to a non-profit organization or entity. This ISP will be solely dedicated to serving educational settings at a first stage which I will discuss in Step2.

Step2: Turning Universities and Schools into Internet Villages
Schools and universities are the places where companies go to recruit young and promising talents and this is where we should have ASAP Innovation centers or internet villages equipped with the best material and the best internet out there. I am talking fiber optics, 4G connectivity, rooms for e-lectures and the latest laptops/servers/tablets. The role of the ISP created above will be to provide quick and unlimited internet on campuses and have them always up to date and coping with the digital revolution. The infrastructural requirements will be minimal at this point as the ministry will be catering to a relatively small crowd and the hardware and software equipments will be provided and sponsored (up to a certain percentage) by top-notch US companies. I believe we have enough contacts to get large corporations to provide us with their latest products for a competitive price, if not for free. It is very important here to have proper maintenance contracts with these companies in order not to end up with outdated pcs.

My idea will apply to both public and private establishments. These tech hubs will serve as a space for students to express their creativity, be innovative and follow up on what’s happening in the world.

Step3: Expand to Towns and Cities
I remember almost 10 years ago when internet was still very expensive, internet cafes started popping everywhere in Lebanon offering cheap prices. When internet prices were cut down, cafes started disappearing slowly. Similarly, people want high-speed connections these days and after providing them for free in universities and schools, municipalities should initiate such projects and have one tech center or more in their towns. There are tons of partnerships that can be done here to provide the equipment and e-learning courses could be provided as well to those interested.

To be honest, I am hoping by the time we reach this stage that our infrastructure will be ready to serve all the Lebanese fast, consistent and unlimited internet but if it is not the case, these centers will help speed this process up even further..

Conclusion: Technology is turbocharging transparency to fight corruption – Bono –
I posted few days ago about UK Ambassador in Lebanon Tom Fletcher’s views on the many challenges that await Lebanon and I was captivated by one of his quotes that went as follows:

How do you skip a technology generation? Traffic lights, the internet and electricity are great British inventions. Put them in, and the rest will follow – HA Tom Fletcher

The digital era is revolutionizing our societies and the rise of social media and its influence are turning countries upside down. The more internet is easily accessible and widespread in Lebanon, the more influential the online society is becoming and the bigger impact it is having on the decision-makers and people in power. Given that we are a young country and that the aspiring generations are the ones mostly hooked on social media tools and the internet, empowering them the soonest is a must in order to avoid irrevocable consequences and pave the way for ambitious and competitive innovations such as the proposed flying cars or robotized policemen. Trust me I would be the happiest person in the world if I could fly over traffic on my way to work everyday.

I’d like to hear your feedback on the above idea even if I am submitting this as is. I barely had a day to prepare this in order to meet the deadline, so I am sure there’s some room for improvement.

PS: This is my entry for the competition run by the Lebanese Telecom Ministry: “Lebanese Bloggers Reinvent The World”.