Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The earthquake that devastated Haiti also destroyed the nation’s feeble network for phones and Internet service. Except for cellphones, the population was largely cut off from communication.
But out of the rubble, one U.S. wireless industry pioneer sees opportunity.
John Stanton, founder of Voice Stream and former chief executive of T-Mobile USA, wants the Haitian government to forget about rebuilding its copper wire communications network. Instead, he thinks Haiti should go mobile.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Stanton said.
In a keynote speech prepared for delivery at the wireless industry’s CTIA trade show Wednesday in Las Vegas, Stanton called for the Haitian government to create an all-wireless nation with more robust networks for the population of nearly 10 million and to build an economy centered on mobile technology.
“By deploying state-of-the-art wireless systems, we enable less-developed countries to leapfrog older technologies, and those systems become the foundation for a new economy,” Stanton said.
Stanton is asking Haiti to release more spectrum for commercial carriers to get more people to text and use their phones for commerce, banking and other daily needs. He pledged that his company, Trilogy, would commit up to $100 million to expand its network there.
Trilogy owns Haiti’s second-largest cellphone company, Voilà. The three cellphone providers there — Voilà, Digicel and Haitel — compete vigorously for customers who have come to rely on cellphones even more after the earthquake. But only about 30 percent of the population has one.
Accepting the proposal would be a risky bet for the government, experts say, because fat fiber networks would still be needed to serve hospitals, schools and government buildings.
“This could be a good strategy for as long as 20 years even, but I just don’t see it as an ultimate strategy because at a certain point you need fixed wire for services that require more bandwidth,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
“Haiti is very mountainous and the people are very fond of their cellphones,” said Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States. “In that sense, a wireless system would just be leaping over all sorts of impediments to connect the whole country.”
Joseph said that recovery has overwhelmed the nation but that in recent days he’s received calls from South Korean, Vietnamese and Pakistani investors interested in rebuilding the nation’s textile and hotels industry.
Trilogy told the Haitian government that more spectrum is needed for commercial carriers and that it has committed $80 million to $100 million to build its own network.
Voilà was the first cellphone operator to enter Haiti, in 1997, and has built a strong relationship with the government with its philanthropy arm. It was recognized by the State Department last year for its social responsibility programs in Haiti that include funding 7,000 primary school scholarships. But Digicel, run by an Irish telecom investor, has become a fierce competitor, surpassing Voilà in number of subscribers in recent years because it offered free incoming call service.
Experts say any project to rebuild infrastructure in the nation should be open to competition. That would include laying down fiber for a stronger backbone to connect calls. Dozens of new cellphone towers would be raised to support traffic that will grow as Internet use takes off.
“It can be a fantastic opportunity, but all over the world there is also a push to have a mix of wireless and fixed-wire networks supporting broadband and communications,” said Bruce Mehlman, co-president of the Internet Innovation Alliance and former assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy. “And you must make sure that this doesn’t preclude any competition.”
COMMENT: HAITIAN – TRUTH.ORG
Since the importance of communications, along with the profits involved, are major factors in the cellphone business President Rene Preval took immediate steps to take over at least one of the two major cell phone businesses in Haiti.
HAITEL is owned by its creator Franck Cine. Cine was also the founder/owner of SOCABANK an entity that was licensed during 1994. It soon grew to be a major competitor of the other two key banks, SOGEBANK and UNIBANK, along with the other smaller players in the game. Since the Preval theft of Haiti’s 2006 electoral process, UNIBANK is seen as the major controller of all things economic in Haiti.
Preval wanted Cine to sign over major percentages in both SOCABANK and HAITEL. When Cine declined the opportunity, Preval set out to destroy SOCABANK. A number of spurious accusation were levelled against the bank and – to make a long story short – Cine and several of his directors, were arrested….the bank was effectively broken up and the existing Haitian banks absorbed the pieces, like fillet Mignon.
Even the Haitian court system came out, stating that the entire process was illegal.
Cine was still in jail when he suffered a heart problem. After much delay, the Preval government allowed his transfer to Canape Vert hospital where hi room became his jail cell. At first, in order to further humiliate him, Cine was handcuffed to his bed, 24 hours per day. Although this torment was removed, he was kept locked up through one years…two years…and moving towards 2.5 years with Preval ignoring the Court’s insistance that Franck Cine be released.
During this same period, Preval set loose Claudi Gassant – a prosecutor that would not allow attorneys into the courts with their clients, threatened businessmen to gain bribes for him and Preval and generally sent waves of fear through the business community. On one occasion he arrested two of the Brandt family, accusing them of issuing false documents related to the importation of a truck. Their incarceration was a direct lesson to other business leaders. If you could lock up two Brandts, in a room with no sanitary facilities, forcing them to poo in small plastic bags… Preval could lock anyone up.
His next target was G. Boulos…but the American Embassy blocked that one.
Meanwhile Cine is still locked up, with no end in sight.
All of his accounts and the bank accounts of HAITEL were frozen so he had to use fast footwork to keep HAITEL afloat.
Finally, one of his associates flew to Washington where he talked to an ex-congressman who had moved onto another form of employment. When the story was told, a promise of action was made. Several weeks later President Clinton flew into Haiti on one of his visits. Accompanying Clinton was one of the faceless people. He whispered into President Rene Garcia Preval’s ear.
The message was a simple one. :”Free Franck Cine – INSTANTLY – or he was toast.”
Wonder of wonders, Franck Cine was released the next day, and mysteriously showed up in New York – sans passport, the day after. Preval still has this document and probably shudders every time he looks at it, understanding that there is a higher authority that moves into action – on occasion..
Cine is alive and well in the States and will look for justice in the immediate future..
At some stage, Rene Preval, and the others involved with these illegal actions, along with the illegal break-up of SOCABANK must face the realities of Justice one Preval is removed, by vote, or premture retirement “for health reasons.”
Preval has now annointed Jacques Alexis as his favored Presidential Candidate.
People must remember exactly what Alexis is…..a major criminal who has stolen millions to support any political campaign. During the Michele Pierre-Louis Prime Ministership, he effectively controlled this office, taking some $500.000 per month from its accounts. Alexis had named, and controlled all but one or two of the cabinet. Alexis has bought and paid for the Chamber of Deputies and Senate.
The Alexis/Preval combine hopes to avoid the Continuity of Democracy – so loved by the International Community…replacing this wit THE CONTINUITY OF CRIMINALITY.
Haitians, and the World Community should make themselves aware of the facts and avoid destroying Haiti by supporting Preval’s partner in crime JACQUES ALEXIS