Teleco Haiti: Communists step in where capitalists fear to...

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Teleco Haiti: Communists step in where capitalists fear to tread
Posted By Martyn Warwick, 28 May 2010 | 0 Comments | (0)
Tags: Fixed Line mobile Finance
After all the PR-puffed promises of help to get Haiti back on its telephonic feet, (and although the island is on America's doorstep), it is, of all things, a Vietnamese company that is actually doing something constructive.

Martyn Warwick reports.

By any standards (and hitherto Nitel of Nigeria was the long-time global poster-boy for all that's wrong in telecoms) the state-owned incumbent carrier, Teleco Haiti, has for many, many years been a deadweight, a moneypit and a byword for inefficiency, corruption and appalling service.

Teleco Haiti enjoyed a monopoly (making it all the easier for corrupt politicians to pillage and loot the company) and yet fixed line penetration was a derisory 2 per cent and actual dial tone as rare as hen's teeth.

There were no plans to modernise Teleco's battered, ancient and partial infrastructure and no money to do it anyway.

The carrier was used as a handy piggy-bank by successive and equally corrupt regimes and politicians gave non-jobs and sinecures in their thousands to those that could help them squeeze yet more out of the organisation.

Before the earthquake Teleco Haiti was losing at least $1 million a month (and had been since 2001) on a subscriber base of just 40,000 and falling.

The waiting time for a phone line was anywhere between seven and ten years, while several people have been on the waiting list for 30 years - although everyone knew that you could have a phone fitted in a day if you bribed the right people.

Staffing at the carrier was so bloated by political appointees that, during the regime of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Teleco had 4,696 staff on the payroll.

When Aristide legged-it to South Africa in 2004, staff levels were eventually cut to 2,500 but Teleco is still grossly overmanned.

As for high-speed data, forget it. Only the country's elite had anything like reasonable web access.

Haiti's few private ISPs charge upwards of US$70 a month for a derisory 128 kilobits per second connection.

The bulk of Haiti's population of 9 million are poverty-stricken, with 85 per cent earning less than the equivalent of $2 a day,

Furthermore Teleco Haiti controlled all wireless spectrum but didn't have a mobile service of its own. Another recipe for corruption and disaster.


The country's Haiti's two main mobile carriers, Digicel (a subsidiary of the Irish-owned Digicel Group) and Voila (owned by Trilogy International Partners of the US ) provide effective cellular coverage in parts of Haiti but their services are expensive and quite beyond the reach of the mass of Haiti's citizens.

In other words, Haiti's telecoms sector was a complete basket case. But now a potential saviour is on hand in the shape of Viettel, Vietnam's Number One mobile company.

Over the past 10 years, Viettel has come from nowhere to dominate its home country's telecoms landscape and is now expanding into the neighbouring nations of Cambodia and Laos.

Moving into Haiti is Vittel's first venture outside South East Asia. Over the past few months the carrier has spent the equivalent of $59 million to buy a 60 per cent dominant share in the moribund Telecom Haiti (yup, the government's stake is now down to 40 per cent and the pillaging of the telco is hopefully a thing of the past).

Viettel says that in the first instance it is committing $40 million to the initial phase of reconstruction, with more to come.

Viettel took control of Teleco Haiti via an auction process run by and through the International Finance Corportion which is a part of the World Bank. In its winning bid Viettel promised to build a nationwide fibre-optic backbone in Haiti, to extend mobile coverage to all parts of the country and to introduce WiMax networks in 10 towns and cities.

The company claims it can deploy the planned 5,000 kilometre fibre-network infrastructure in just twelve months - from start to finish.

What's more, Viettel will provide free, truly high-speed Internet connectiviy to some 1,500 of Haiti's schools, hospitals, clinics and tattered government offices.

It also says that Web access services will be priced at a rate "that even the poorest will be able to afford."

Viettel will also construct a new subsea cable festoon between the island and the US mainland in Florida and will repair the submarine link to the Bahamas that was damaged by the earthquake bit which had never been put into commission by Teleco Haiti, allegedly for reasons of graft, bribery and corruption.

The Spartan and highly-disciplined Vietnamese won't be standing for any of that nonsense.

And where are the usual suspects in all this?

The sort of companies that queued up to gain lucrative contracts in Iraq?

Yes, you've got it in one. There's not enough profit to be made in dragging Haiti's comms networks into the 21st century.

So the communists are doing it. Viettel is run by the Vietnamese military.

By the way, the latest estimates are that the Haiti earthquake killed 230,000 people and made a further 1.3 million homeless.

Will Smith, June 1 2010, 11:33 AM

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Cheap internet must be defined. Today we have cheap internet in Haiti. They are worth dial ups. The cheap one being referred here is high quality... read more >
Raynald Delerme, 31-May-10 4:32 pm
Well, I'm using cheap internet for this e-mail. I'm sitting on a private beach using Haiti Access. $60/month. Take it anywhere and plug it in!!! But... read more >
Jacques L, 31-May-10 8:18 pm
yes we can, and that's just the beginning of greatness. W have been great in the pass, we will continue but it just a matter of time. Haiti is for... read more >
Jean Claude, 31-May-10 9:17 pm
yes I am very optimist of all that. yes we can and we will always be able to God bless haiti,and it is about time that someone believe in our well... read more >
Josette Arnoux, 1-Jun-10 12:30 am
Mwen renmen sak pwal fet la poum byen diw ayisyen teka fel se paske noupa mete tet nou ansanm kife se viettel kap fel antouka mwen di viettel mesi... read more >
Stjacques R, 1-Jun-10 6:04 am
which part on Haiti I need the internet in Port-de Paix please contact me at 954-934-2689 read more >
Jocelyne Merisier, 1-Jun-10 8:28 am
Teleco Haiti: Communists step in where capitalists fear to tread Posted By Martyn Warwick, 28 May 2010 | 0 Comments | (0) Tags: Fixed Line mobile... read more >
Will Smith, 1-Jun-10 11:33 am


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