Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti - Earthquake severely strains telecommunications services

[usa today] Telecommunications providers in Haiti will continue through the weekend to try to accommodate the enormous demand for phone and broadband services as they struggle to overcome massive damage to the island's infrastructure from Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake.

"The logistics and the security situation are really bad," says Paul Margie, U.S. representative for international relief organization Télécoms Sans Frontières (Telecommunications Without Borders). "There's so much rubble in the street, it's hard to drive places."

The group plans to set up a site in Port-au-Prince where people can make free, two-minute phone calls via satellite to anywhere. It also will offer broadband service to relief workers from the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

The island's leading wireless phone provider, Jamaica-based Digicel Group, wants to send technicians to the island to work on its network, which is damaged but still operational. Antonia Graham, who is head of public relations, says the network is severely congested "because of the number of people making calls and trying to receive calls."

Digicel couldn't do much Thursday. "We've been trying to get into Haiti but our plane got turned back because the airport's full," she says.

Officials in the U.S. also are trying to find answers to Haiti's communications needs.

The Federal Communications Commission said, in a release, that it is contacting providers as it tries to "determine their operating status and to offer technical assistance."

The needs likely will be enormous.

Even before the earthquake, the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook called Haiti's phone system "barely adequate" with an infrastructure that's "among the least developed in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Haiti's government-owned Télécommunications d'Haiti controls the land-line phone service. But cellphone sales soared after 2006 when Digicel, Comcel and Haitel began to offer low-price services.

The earthquake could accelerate demand for wireless and satellite communications.

After massive natural disasters, "Countries don't have many alternatives, or the resources to build a new infrastructure," says Jay Yass, vice president of network services at Intelsat, which provides satellite services to video, data and voice providers in many countries, including Haiti. "Satellite is able to be rapidly deployed."

Haiti quake severely strains telecom services

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