"Lebanon’sTelecommunication Ministry on Friday received offers to operate Lebanonstwo GSM mobile networks from France Telecom (FT), Zain Group of Kuwaitand Egypt’sOrascom Telecom, a source at the department told local newspaper The DailyStar. One of the bidders, Zain, is currently running one of the networks,Mobile Interim Company (MIC 2), under the name MTC Touch Lebanon,although the latest extension to its state management contract officially endedin December 2008. The other GSM network, MIC 1, branded as Alfa, is undercontrol of the Telecom Ministry, after the government cancelled the operatingcontract of Fal Dete Telecommunications, a joint venture of Deutsche Telekomsubsidiary DeTeCon International and Saudi Arabias Fal Holdings, at thebeginning of December. It had been hoped that the state would launch the fullprivatisation of both cellular networks early this year, but the Cabinet hasdelayed the auction of controlling stakes until after parliamentary electionsscheduled for May 2009, partly due to unfavourable global financial marketconditions. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms datatbase notes that success for FTwould mark a return to the Lebanese mobile market, as the French company’sFrance Telecom Mobile Liban venture was behind the launch of MIC 1 in 1995under a ten-year build-transfer-operate (BTO) agreement with the government; itprovided services under the Cellis brand until June 2004.
Telecoms Minister Jebran Bassil will submit the three offers to the Cabinet for study by ministers, with two one-year management contracts up for grabs. Winners are expected to be paid monthly fees by the government.MTC Touch and Alfa were paid USD4.2 million a month each in return for operating the networks. Bassil has said repeatedly that he wants the operators to expand the number of mobile lines in service and to improve efficiency. The overhaul is forecast to cost at least USD100 million. There are approximately1.4 million mobile subscribers in Lebanon but Bassil has been pressing for the total to be increased to more than two million before the end of 2009.