NGO networks in Haiti cause problems for local ISPs

Temporary networks are interfering with local networks and taking away potential business

That does not mean, however, that the NGOs will all be using the temporary network for another 30 days, he said. Inveneo and NetHope are encouraging the NGOs to begin talking to and negotiating with the local ISPs now so that they can transition as soon as possible. "The NGOs are saying 'give us time to do this properly,'" Summer said.

"So we said yes, if you want that, fine, but we need to now say we can't do this for free because we can't expect the local companies to keep donating their services," Summer said. Two local ISPs, AccessHaiti and MultiLink, donated the backhaul bandwidth for the temporary network. But Inveneo wants to begin to pay a local provider for that service. He planned to arrive in Haiti on Monday to begin talks with all of the local ISPs to come to an agreement so that Inveneo can pay one or more of them for backhaul services in March.

The local ISPs are also now trying to devise ways to ensure that the NGOs know they are ready for business. A Haitian ISP association is preparing a Web page that will outline the services that they are prepared to offer with information about how NGOs and other organizations can contact the companies, Bruno said. "So they can determine if the area is covered by a local provider before making a different decision," he said. The group hopes to issue a press release soon about the resource.

Many NGOs do know that the local ISPs would like their business.

"The local operators are indicating clearly that they would prefer these NGOs bought capacity from them or subcontracted," said Cosmas Zavazava, the chief of the emergency telecommunications group of the International Telecommunications Union's telecommunications development bureau. Speaking from Haiti, where he is working on communications issues, he said that some NGOs already have started employing local ISPs and that others might still.

The NGOs, however, have caused another set of problems as well. Many began using their wireless and satellite equipment without getting approval to use the required frequencies. That's in part because the Haitian regulatory authority's office had collapsed. "Their ability to license people in 48 hours or so [after the quake] was nonexistent," said Zavazava. "So people came in and started switching on their equipment and operating."

That caused interference with local ISPs who are licensed to use the spectrum, thus degrading the service that they are offering to customers, Zavazava and Bruno said. It continues to be a problem.

"This is causing discomfort on the part of local operators who have invested quite a lot of money in getting licenses and buying the equipment they are using," Zavazava said.

Haiti's regulatory authority has issued a statement asking all visitors to indicate which frequencies they are using in an attempt to harmonize operations, but many have not stepped forward, Zavazava said.

Some of those may be organizations that are beginning to wrap up their operations in Haiti. "They may not really have the motivation to approach the regulatory authority," Zavazava said.

He said the situation is not uncommon in areas where NGOs are working to help after a disaster hits but that it could be avoided with disaster preparedness exercises.

Inveneo said it has exclusively used equipment that operates in unlicensed bands so as not to interfere with local licensed operations. But Summer has read announcements about other groups that are using WiMax to deliver temporary services and those networks may be interfering with the locals, he said.

Bruno hopes that the NGOs will start using the local ISPs soon. "If you want everything to go back to normal, the best thing to do is use the services of the local providers," he said.

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