Under the High Patronage of H.E.
President of the Republic of Lebanon General Michel Sleiman
Represented by H.E. Minister of Telecommunications Mr. Boutros Harb
Harb: Lebanon has the potential to be the central hub for the production of Arabic digital content, development, design, innovation and new digital applications
Charafeddine: bolstered our dedication to fostering entrepreneurship with the launch of Circular 331
Hobballah: New laws must be issued, with a new, developed policy for the information and telecommunication technologies. Information and telecommunication technology packages must be available at reasonable prices.
The official opening ceremony of ArabNet Beirut Conference 2014 was held this morning at the Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand hotel, organized by ArabNet in collaboration with the Central Bank of Lebanon, and in strategic partnership with Bank Audi, Beirut Digital District, and Digital Media Services. ArabNet Beirut brings together more than 70 speakers, 40 sponsors and partners, and 600 attendees to discuss the latest trends and opportunities in digital business and entrepreneurship.
The opening was attended by Deputy Hagop Pakradounian, representing H.E. the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Mr. Nabih Berri, and Minister of Information Ramzi Jreij representing the Prime Minister Tammam Salam. In his opening speech, Harb ensured that “Lebanon is rich in the creative energies and technical skills of its youth, which has the potential to make it a central hub for the production of Arabic digital content, development, design, innovation and new digital applications.” He also announced that he has “proceeded to solve the accumulated problems that are impeding the work of the ministry in staying abreast of the world of telecommunications that is evolving dramatically,” and that he’s re-arranging the house internally and mending relationships between the general directorates within the ministry including Ogero.
Harb relayed the greetings of H.E. President Sleiman, especially to those organizing the conference and its participants, as well as his appreciation of the cutting-edge insights and highlights about technology that participants are used to receiving at this event, which are contributing to enriching the knowledge economy in the Arab countries. He added “today, we are gathered with a select group of competent men and women, from the region and beyond, who have contributed with their research, culture, and work to a revival in the digital economy, at a time when questions about why governments, particularly in the Arab world, are not keeping up with the astonishing developments in the world of telecommunications are abundant.” Harb posed some questions: “does it make sense that governments continue to fall behind in this digital age, while the youth and the private sector continue to make immense strides? Should it be acceptable that the legislation for electronic contracts, for example, is still pending approval, when our delay on this front has an immense impact on local and global economic activity, and when an electronic signature could save us the trouble of taking a flight to complete a transaction, or the time it takes waiting for a package to arrive by mail?”
Harb added that “the knowledge economy can help reduce unemployment, especially amongst youth; in 2011 and 2012, the knowledge sector accounted for approximately 25% of the European economy. Yet despite the proven benefits of the knowledge economy, we see the youth of Lebanon being forced to leave their country and families, carrying their degrees and competencies with them, and enriching knowledge economies abroad, with their skills and know-how.”
Harb also noticed that: “in recent years, Lebanon has tried to modernize and develop its infrastructure in order to become the main digital platform in the region and join the ranks of pioneering digital nations by the year 2015.The Lebanese state has exhibited a great interest in the digital domain, through the plans It has put forth for fiber optic connections, International Gateways, IP/MPLS for fixed-line telephones, the Alexandros submarine cable to increase international capacities to 700 gigabytes, the IMEWE cable and 3G and 4G connections for mobile phones. The Lebanese government has also set the regulatory framework for digital zones and the legal framework for preferential tariffs, and has also provided access to infrastructure for the aforementioned zones, with the hope that they become factories that produce digital services with added value, equipped to create job opportunities.”
He also pointed out that: “There is no doubt that the Lebanese and visitors to Lebanon feel the extent of the results of these investments in telecommunications, as the number of Lebanese mobile subscribers has risen to 3.8 million, and Internet speed has increased over fixed and mobile networks, and God willing, there will be greater prosperity with the up-coming high-speed fiber optic network, which will be spread, successively to the different Lebanese areas, so that DSM coverage reaches all Lebanese areas, along with 4G.” Harb added “our youth, who are creative in the worlds of digital, information technology and telecommunications, and who are investing their competencies and energies for the sake of society, whether in Lebanon or abroad, are going to continue forward with the same enthusiasm and persistence, doubling their innovations and the technological services they are providing to the world, enabling Lebanon to rebuild itself on the foundation of this knowledge economy.”
Harb mentioned that “Lebanon has launched several free economic zones to serve as digital meeting points for stakeholders, suppliers, operators, programmers, developers, investors, and entrepreneurs, and in order to place Lebanon within the ranks of nations that are advanced in providing digital services. Of these free economic zones, for example, Beirut Digital District was launched recently in the heart of Beirut.” Harb added that the launch of the free economic zone in the Batroun Caza, in which “we are collaborating to achieve with the Maronite Association and the Archdiocese of Maronites in Batroun, which announced its willingness to donate the land for the project. We are focusing this free economic zone on digital, light and clean industries to protect Lebanon, especially the Batroun Caza, from environmental pollution, and in order to curb the migration of Lebanese seeking employment, through newly forged conditions which will be favorable for creative production, innovation and skilled endeavors.”
Harb pointed out that “external demand is greater in size than the internal market,” and that Lebanon is rich in the creative energies and technical skills of its youth, which has the potential to make it a central hub for the production of Arabic digital content, development, design, innovation and new digital applications. Harb stressed on how Lebanese citizens are “spread across the globe, will compensate for losses resulting from the migration of its youth with the successes its people achieve, like Atheer Labs’s smart glasses, which compete with Google Glass and were launched by Suleiman Itani, an innovative Lebanese living in California who is boosting the country’s reputation.”
Harb ended his speech that he has resolved, during the short term of this current government, to “take the most important step of placing the Ministry of Telecommunications back in the service of all Lebanese, through a commitment to a culture of respect for laws and their implementation, and this is what will equip this ministry to perform its national, technical, economic, and security roles in the best form, in order to stay abreast of the rapid movement of development in the world of telecommunications.”
Raed H. Charafeddine
First Vice-Governor - Banque du Liban
The First Vice-Governor of Banque du Liban, Raed H. Charafeddine, described ArabNet Beirut Conference as “the leading event for the digital creative sectors. He commended ArabNet for persevering forward with this important initiative, year after year, despite escalations in local and regional political instabilities. He added that “ArabNet is an entrepreneurial project that the Central Bank of Lebanon has supported since its beginnings for its potential to stimulate the growth of the Arab knowledge economy and support the creation of new businesses and job opportunities for youth in Lebanon. Creative talent, innovation and entrepreneurship, the themes of “ArabNet Beirut”, are hallmarks of Lebanon, which it is important for us to retain and develop.” He also noticed that “digital technologies and innovations are infiltrating every aspect of our daily lives; becoming an integral aspect of countries’ abilities to grow their intellectual capital and competitive edge in the global economic market. In Lebanon, we have seen digital startups flourish with a positive impact in nourishing talent and creating viable career alternatives for young Lebanese looking to move abroad, thus, limiting brain-drain.”
Charafeddine ensured that the Central Bank of Lebanon “strongly believe that integral to the success of these startups is a well-developed entrepreneurial ecosystem; the support and empowerment of entrepreneurs by incubators, accelerators, investors, mentors, as well as financial and educational institutions. Thus, we have further bolstered our dedication to fostering entrepreneurship with the launch of Circular 331, late last year. Through Circular 331, the Central Bank has allocated over 400 million USD to support and guarantee investments in startups in Lebanon. We have incentivized the historically-strong Lebanese banking sector, to invest in a new and promising avenue for economic growth, and also by guaranteeing investments in digital ventures up to 75%. This initiative has already shown results, through the creation of multiple funds for entrepreneurs, and we hope it will help young Lebanese to build their digital innovations into businesses that leave a global mark.
Charafeddine added “over the next two days, we look forward to hearing about the latest advances that have been made on the regional and global digital scenes and the exciting opportunities that stand before us. We anticipate stimulating discussions that will unfold about cutting-edge developments in the creative fields and the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem. We give a special welcome to the talented Lebanese and regional entrepreneurs with bright ideas and promising startups pitching in this year’s Ideathon and Startup Demo competitions. We strongly believe in the talents and resiliency of Lebanese entrepreneurs and businesses, and in these hard times, we are especially committed to partnering with them on their journeys and investing in their growth.”
He ended his speech by wishing all participants a productive and enlightening experience, and he hoped that they will make the most of this unique event to broaden their digital horizons, grow their networks, hone their ideas and advance their businesses.
Dr. Imad Youssef Hobballah
‘Telecommunications Regulatory Authority’
And the Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and its acting general director Dr. Imad Youssef Hobballah talked about “Internet Governance and Consumer Rights in the Digital World”, he explained how the development of smart telecommunications and the wide spread of digital content, in different types and languages, have facilitated the user’s access to several digital services using a single communication platform. Adding that now, we now follow the news, exchange mail and messages, do our banking and business, watch movies, communicate with our loved ones by audio and video, participate in forums and interact with political, social, artistic and cultural issues; and even create and develop online, using only a cell phone.
Dr. Hobballah showcased a set of global statistics, and described the current era as a “electronic communication age”, he also pointed out that “In Lebanon, by the end of 2013, there were 3.9 million cell phone users (92% of the population), more than 2 million of them use the internet on their cell phones (52%).”
Hobballah stressed on that “Every governmental economic plan or policy must have information and telecommunication technologies at its heart. Plans and policies should seek spreading those technologies and make them accessible for every citizen; for the success of all sectors, private, public and civil, as well as schools, universities and companies, is based on how well they use these technologies.” He also added: “Balancing privacy, freedom of expression and the right to access information with national security requirements is the most prominent challenges internet governance faces.” and that “In order to benefit from the telecommunication revolution, we need to provide internet access without any obstacles, access information with no restrictions and have very fast connections for very low prices. We even should guarantee, by a written law, the right of every citizen to access the internet at no less than 100 megabytes per second.”
He also took notice of “It is unacceptable for political parties, companies, individuals or even governmental agencies, to violate users’ privacy. Citizens’ rights and responsibilities must be respected in more sophisticated ways than those used outside the virtual world, such as privacy, data secrecy and complete access to information.” He continued by adding: “We bow to our national security, and the right procedures must be followed by trained, qualified law enforcement professionals. Members of our governmental institutions need training on how to deal with information and respect privacy and other rights and liberties.”
Dr.Hobballah highlighted on “Internet governance system must be built on the basis of multi-stakeholders. That means representatives of governments and policy makers alongside representatives of the private sector, civil society, academics, researchers, businessmen and innovators.” and then he added that: “As for public policy and regulation, regardless of cyber security and with all appreciation of previous ministers’ efforts, there is no doubt that his excellency, the minister of telecommunication, Boutros Harb and the new cabinet are facing a big challenge! First, the priority of all proposed policies and regulations must be the good of citizens, therefore, ridding regulations of any predetermined frameworks and regulations that would stand in the face of creativity, innovation, liberties and economy.” He also stressed on the vitality of “We must emphasize the importance of digital literacy. We must reform our educational system to encourage initiative, innovation, rewarding adventure, expressing opinions and interaction. We cannot raise the thinkers, the innovative and creative businessmen of tomorrow with educational and intellectual systems that belong to forgotten past.” he called for “New laws must be issued, with a new, developed policy for the information and telecommunication technologies and We must quickly open the market and promote competition, and indulge the private sector by privatizing what should be privatized and offering a wider spectrum of services at much lower costs than today. Information and telecommunication technology packages must be available at reasonable prices. And we have to provide secure, reliable, accessible and durable broadband connections with high capacities.”
Hobballah finds that aspiration should be made to reduce costs for customers, adding that: “We must direct our efforts toward competition and tax reduction, despite the current difficulty considering the Lebanese treasury dependence on this sector.” He noted that “Roaming costs are an important obstacle to mobile telecommunication development, and we must work on reducing them, especially data roaming.” He stressed on the need of regulators with a pioneering, vibrant digital spirit and the need of transparent and innovative regulatory framework, instead of rigid, predetermined systems. Dr. Hobballah stated that we are in need to encourage adventurous spirits, and place creativity and innovation at the heart of our work thru let entrepreneurs, young men and women like the participants of this event, and the leading institutions in the digital industry; be the main drivers of digital economy.
Hobballah also stressed on that the main reason for private and governmental investments must always be promoting social development and helping SME’s heading for the better. Also, we must be quick to launch the digital technology industry in general, and interactive applications and cyber security in particular, and build a digital economy ecosystem through joint efforts from policy makers, regulators, service providers, investors and innovators to promote creating digital content and applications.
He finished by stating that incubating environments must be provided in which wider opportunities and strength capabilities will be available and that we must build new creativity and innovation incubators and support existing ones, as well as providing accelerators.
Omar Christidis, Founder and CEO of ArabNet, showcased the topics that will addressed by the conference this year in its 5th edition, which hosts 70 speakers, 600 participants, 40 sponsors and partners, to discuss the latest digital trends and opportunities in digital business and entrepreneurship. He added that “Lebanon, and more broadly the Levant and Egypt, is a hub for the creative industries, generating music, video, fashion, food, design, and arts and culture trends that have spread across the region. It is also the heart of production in the Middle East, with the agencies and development houses that serve the region's biggest clients using it as their creative kitchen. Talent is the key differentiator in these sectors, and the search for it is heated - local companies must compete with multinationals ready to whisk away the best and brightest. Fittingly, ArabNet Beirut will focus on these themes - on production, the creative industries, and talent.”
ArabNet Beirut kicked off on tuesday with Design+Code Day, a full day of focused workshops led by experts in development, design and product management to help participants expand their skills, and build better web and mobile products. The Conference will continue till Thursday (March,6) with sessions that tackle issues such as Entrepreneurship and Investing in Technology, Fashion and Luxury: eMarketing and eCommerce , E-Marketing for Banks and FMCG’s. All of these and much of which are of much importance for the Lebanese market; companies and businesses in specific.
Touch is launching a billing API to allow transactions on physical and digital goods to be charged directly to the consumer’s phone bill or deducted from his top-up credit. The API is part of the Touch Cloud initiative, a powerful and scalable API platform that enables SMEs, Enterprises & developers to create mobile apps and API services cost-effectively. Developers can gain free access to the platform by subscribing to cloud.touch.com.lb. Touch Cloud is a cornerstone in the company’s effort to support the developer and startup ecosystems in Lebanon.
New Investment Fund
Also, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) announced its new $50 million Venture Capital fund "The IMPACT Fund" as well as 4 new investments - worth $3 million - in local, regional and global companies: Apstrata (Lebanon / USA), Potential (Lebanon / UAE), Fadel Partners (Lebanon / USA) and Instabug (Egypt / USA).
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