LEBANON SET TO CLOSE TELECOM DEALS IN NOVEMBER

LEBANON SET TO CLOSE TELECOM DEALS IN NOVEMBER

Lebanon's Council for Development and Reconstruction plans to award two major contracts to rebuild the country's telephone system by the end of next month, a senior CDR official said.

Separate invitations to bid on the rebuilding and expansion of Lebanon's existing telecom network and for the construction of a nationwide cellular network already have been sent out.The deadline for bids has been set for Oct. 31, Ibrahim Shamseddine, CDR's vice president, said in an interview here.

The reconstruction tenders are separate from the $80 million contract awarded last April to Ericsson, Alcatel and Siemens for emergency reconstruction of existing telephone lines.

After examination of pre-qualification documents, 10 companies were invited to bid for the first phase of the broader reconstruction project, Mr. Shamseddine said. This phase covers the renovation and expansion of Lebanon's existing system along lines drawn up by the government in the early 1980s, he said.

Other companies invited to bid were American Telephone & Telegraph Co., Bell Canada, Britain's GPT, Mitsui, NEC, Sumitomo and a consortium consisting of Fujitsu and Fujicara.

Nine companies also have been invited to bid for the more lucrative second phase of the project, involving the installation of a state-of-the-art cellular network throughout the country.

These companies include AT&T, Bell Canada, Cable & Wireless, Siemens, Motorola, France Telecom, Telecom Finland, a consortium consisting of Alcatel and Cofirasfr and a joint venture involving Ericsson, Italtel and Fatme.

A cellular network would be the quickest way to provide telephone service throughout the country, particularly to poorer villages that had no service before the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, Mr. Shamseddine said.

Service to these areas is key to the government's communal reconciliation efforts, after more than 15 years of war and destruction, he said.

Meanwhile, Beirut's telephone system remains confusing and unreliable, despite some improvement over the last year.

Beyond a few areas of West Beirut where computer-switched lines installed by MCI are up and running, local calling within the city remains difficult. Phoning between cities within Lebanon is virtually impossible.

A new network of international lines recently installed by MCI and the Lebanese government has eased some of the strain, but many still use Cyprus- based cellular networks or satellite lines via New York to conduct business.

This has created a strange situation in which people often place expensive calls to the United States to talk to people only a few streets away.

In theory, AT&T USA Direct and MCI CallAmerica service are available throughout the country. In practice, however, this only applies to certain parts of greater Beirut.