Date: Thu, 9 Jul 1998 10:27:20 -0400
Stephane d'Amours <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Haitians ready for the internet
PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 7 (Reuters) - A few determined entrepreneurs are battling to bring the Internet, considered a gateway to the next century, to this impoverished country where most residents have missed out on many of the technological breakthroughs of this one.
Relying on imported equipment and the occasional under-the- table payment to workers at Haiti's outmoded government-owned telephone monopoly, Teleco, a small group of business owners have hooked up a handful of residents to the World Wide Web.
A few miles from sprawling slums that lack such modern conveniences as
running water, electricity and indoor plumbing, one businessman has
opened Haiti's first
cyber-cafe. Others, eyeing potential
profits in a country where most residents lack telephone service, are
setting up fee-based Internet networks.
If this were a dictatorship I'd understand our lack of access, but
we will be here with or without Teleco, said Jean-Pierre Bailly,
whose company, Companet, is one of Haiti's fledgling Internet
The going has been slow. By June, only about 2,000 of Haiti's 7 million people were believed to have Internet access, all using four main servers available through private companies. Internet providers said their biggest problem has been getting telephone lines.
One of the providers, Alpha Communications Network, has been in existence for five years, but its director, Francois Benoit, said he can not even promise customers four reliable telephone lines.
We started with four lines in 1993, went up to 16 and now we're
back down to less than four. Teleco refuses to give us lines, he
Another firm's owner said he has managed to amass 26 lines but obtained most by making special payments for telephone installations to Teleco employees and former Teleco employees to avoid a waiting list for service that can take years.
Many who wait on the Teleco list never receive service. And others obtain service but then have their lines cut off.
The state-owned company provides only 60,000 lines for the entire country. Service costs $10 per month in a nation with an average per capita income of $250. Service interruptions are frequent and the few people with Internet access say it can take hours of dialing and redialing to get a connection.
A spokesman for Teleco said the company has considered charging
Internet providers a surcharge. Officials said the company itself has
no plans to get into the business.
The Internet is not on our
agenda, we don't have the lines to provide the service, one said.
The Internet providers said they were eager to provide access without dealing with the aged monopoly, using routers that pick up satellite radio signals to make connections without land-based telephone lines. The routers cost $6,600 plus $300 a month, a cost only Haiti's wealthiest can afford.
Computer World, Haiti's first cyber-cafe, used a router to open in July 1997 in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, an area that is home to U.N. workers and other expatriates as well as many members of Haiti's small upper class.
Employee Urciline Grammont said customers pay either $50 per month or $5 per visit to access the Internet. Jonas Guillaume, the owner, is building a cafe below the computer room so Internet aficionados can sip cappuccinos and chat while waiting for their turn at the keyboard.
To make the Internet available to a wider section of Haitian society, a coalition of international donors including the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the European Community has agreed to donate up to $450,000 to build regional access sites throughout the country. The project is intended to provide farmers and small business owners with an opportunity to communicate directly with potential customers in Port-au-Prince.
If you are a fisherman in the countryside and want to supply
Port-au-Prince hotels with fish, you as a fisherman will catch them
and have them ready by a certain time through Internet
communication, Bailly said.
It also is intended to give rural Haitians access to information about development projects as they work their way through the government approval process.
Rural access is essential, said David Flavell, an information
and communication technology consultant to USAID.
One would hope it
is the private sector that will run this without the help of
The project must be approved by Haiti's finance ministry before it can begin and potential participants said they had no idea when that approval might come.
Haiti's last prime minister resigned a year ago and has not been
replaced, and many development projects have been held up by the
lingering political impasse.
It's getting political, Bailly
said of the Internet issue.
Marketing and communication for human development.