January 20, 2010 - 7:38 pm
By Mindel De La Torre | Chief of the International Bureau

The conditions in Haiti remain urgent.  USAID – the lead agency for U.S. relief efforts in Haiti – gives a daily update of developments in Haiti on its website, including the difficulty in meeting the critical needs of the people devastated by the earthquake.

While life-saving needs such as water, food, and medical attention are the highest priorities, getting those supplies and services to the Haitians in need is made much more difficult without a working communications infrastructure.  Communications is the invisible enabler of these services, and of course, it is essential for connecting people in Haiti and outside to know how their loved ones are doing.

I’m happy to report that there’s been a lot of progress in the U.S. Government’s efforts regarding communications issues in Haiti since my blogpost on Friday, January 15.  We at the FCC continue to share our expertise in domestic and international communications and disaster recovery with USAID and our other federal partners, including the National Communications System.  We are also working closely with the communications industry.

I’m also pleased to report that this past weekend, we were able to communicate with Mr. Montàigne Marcelin, the Director General of Conatel, the FCC’s counterpart in Haiti.  In a statement issued this Sunday, January 17, Chairman Genachowski said that “[T]he FCC was pleased to hear from our counterpart in Haiti, Mr. Montàigne Marcelin, the Director General of Conatel, for the first time since our initial outreach [to him] soon after the earthquake. Though he survived, two of his staff did not, several are injured, and the agency's buildings are destroyed. We stand ready to assist Mr. Marcelin and his agency in any way that we can.”  We have continued to be in regular communication with Mr. Marcelin, and one of our people on the ground in Haiti met with him yesterday.  This direct link between our two regulatory agencies – the FCC and Conatel – has proven invaluable in our assistance to Haiti.

Today, I along with Rear Admiral (ret.) James Barnett, Jr., Chief of the Public Safety Homeland Security Bureau, briefed the Chairman and the Commissioners during the FCC’s monthly open meeting on the communications situation in Haiti and our ongoing efforts to support the U.S. Government’s Haiti relief efforts.  As part our report, we noted that the FCC:  (1) deployed staff to Haiti to support FEMA’s Mobile Emergency Management System and the implementation of the FCC’s Project Roll Call; (2) assigned staff to work directly with USAID, U.S. Southern Command, and CITEL with regard to communications issues in Haiti, and (3) in response to a request from Conatel’s Director General, is developing a proposal for an FCC-USG team to deploy to Haiti to assess communications needs, priorities and possible solutions.

Here’s a snapshot of the communications situations at this time:

  • Mobile service in Port-au-Prince is functioning but there are still problems with call completion due to a high number of calls and because both mobile operators lost a large numbers of cell sites. Mobile service in the rest of Haiti, however, continues to function, but is compromised by the lack of fuel.
  • Wireline service has yet to be restored in the capital.  Teleco, the wireline incumbent, lost the cable landing facility with the Bahamas which provides its primary international connectivity.
  • Reliance on satellite services is high among NGOs, relief workers and first responder entities supporting the Haitian government.
  • The largest ISP is operating at 85% capacity, with 8 of its 60 towers down, while its international connections are reported to be at 100%.
  • Radio and television services in Port-au-Prince are very limited – two of 18 TV stations are online, and evidence from the FCC’s Roll Call efforts indicates that about 30 of 40 FM stations are running.
  • The 2 public safety answering points in Port-au-Prince are no longer functioning, and, in essence, there is no “911” service there.
  • Through the efforts of many in the U.S. Government, including the FCC, a shipment is on its way to Haiti that includes telecommunications equipment needed to restore and improve cellular service in the country.

As before, we will continue to provide updates on the status of communications in Haiti and what we’re doing to help.

Please check back here for updates.