Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), the operator of the only international submarine cable system directly connecting to Haiti, told TeleGeography yesterday (Thursday 14 January) that ‘service into Haiti via the extension of the Bahamas Domestic Submarine Network (BDSNi) was disrupted’ as a result of the catastrophic earthquake that struck the Port-au-Prince area on 12 January, causing mass destruction and loss of life. BTC representative Alveta Moss added that ‘We are currently remotely assessing the extent of the damage, pending contact with our partners in Haiti. Until we are able to thoroughly assess the damage, I am unable at this time to indicate how long repairs will take or when service will be restored.’ Haitian fixed line operator Teleco jointly controls the undersea fibre-optic link connecting Port-au-Prince to Matthew Town (Great Inagua Island) in the Bahamas, and from there to the US, in partnership with BTC. The BDSNi, designed with a maximum 1.92Tbps transmission capacity, is utilised by Teleco alongside INTELSAT satellite infrastructure, and it is not known how much of Haiti’s traffic is currently routed via this cable. However, as the Haiti-Bahamas link only came online relatively recently (December 2006), much of Haiti’s international communications remains largely reliant on satellites – which are of vital importance in a disaster zone.
Paulo Chilosi, who runs the Haitian ISP Multilink, told US journalists on Thursday that the internet was the best channel for communication to and from Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, although the lack of electricity supply presented a major obstacle to getting online, with few individuals and organisations having access to solar panels or sufficient battery power. Chilosi also said that following the disaster he had given priority to helping to keep important community information channels online, including local radio stations. Most ISPs in the country have remained operational, but two of the best known – Hainet and Access Haiti – were reported yesterday to be non-functional (although this was unconfirmed).
The voice networks of Digicel Haiti, Comcel (Voila), Teleco and Haitel are operational but suffering severe problems with congestion, interconnection and coverage. The largest mobile network, Digicel, says its engineers are trying to add capacity to the network to address traffic congestion. Its Jamaica-based parent, Digicel Group, said it wanted to send extra technicians to the island to work on its network, although on Thursday the company’s head of public relations, Antonia Graham, reported that: ‘We’ve been trying to get into Haiti but our plane got turned back because the airport’s full.’
Physical repairs to networks will be very difficult amongst the devastation in the Haitian capital. ‘There’s so much rubble in the street, it’s hard to drive places,’ said Paul Margie, US representative for international relief organisation Telecoms Sans Frontieres (Telecommunications Without Borders). The group is endeavouring to set up a site in Port-au-Prince where people can make free, two-minute international or domestic phone calls via satellite. It will also offer broadband services to relief workers from the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.
Meanwhile, Commsday reported that SES World Skies announced it was donating teleport access and capacity on five of its own satellites to aid relief efforts in Haiti. The operator said its AMC-1, AMC-6, AMC-21, NSS-7 and NSS-806 spacecraft would provide domestic communication links as well as international connectivity. ‘Satellite networks play a quintessential role in disaster recovery, when speed is at essence,’ noted CEO Rob Bednarek. ‘We acted immediately, so our satellites could quickly provide the vital communication links for the benefit of the people of Haiti who have been struck by one of the worst natural catastrophes in history.’
In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, telecoms regulator Indotel said in a statement on Wednesday that it expected communications with Haiti to be restored ‘in less than 72 hours’, BNamericas reported. ‘The interconnection system between Haiti and the Dominican Republic was not affected, so basically it was an issue of the local infrastructure in Haiti,’ Indotel head Jose Rafael Vargas said, adding that as antennas in Haiti had been damaged, Indotel had requested that Dominican Republic operators increase the power of the signal coming from towers on the border between the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola.