New Submarine Cable for Haiti Recovery and Growth

April 27, 2012

I was working 400 miles away from Haiti, the day of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that caused significant damage and loss of life more than two years ago.  As the weeks passed, I was invited to be a part of a delegation, convened and hosted by the U.S. Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), who met with leaders from the Haitian government and leading NGOs during a trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.  I represented Alcatel-Lucent to Haiti as part of the delegation. Our group of companies worked to gain a better understanding of the Haitian leadership’s redevelopment priorities and sought to engage in long-term recovery activities such as in-country relationship building and international volunteerism.

It became clear that access to information and communication networks is now an essential part of the basic infrastructure needed for socio-economic development. After the recovery, the country was an illustration that ICTs are nearly as important as access to clean water and transportation.

Alcatel-Lucent is now giving the country a further boost by installing an undersea cable which will connect it to the global economy through broadband services.

Richard Nilsson, VP Sales & Marketing North America Region, of Alcatel-Lucent’s Submarine division shared the news: “Digicel has selected Alcatel-Lucent to deliver high capacity undersea cable to Haiti. We are laying a 200 km undersea cable that will link Haiti to the global Internet. The cable is in fact a new branch of the existing FibraLink system owned by Columbus Networks. The new multi-terabit branch will connect Haiti to international gateways in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.”

The project is being led by Digicel, a service provider present in 26 countries and territories throughout the Caribbean and Central America with more than six million wireless users. Digicel is a major wireless service provider in Haiti and this new cable will support the growth of existing communications services and the introduction of new broadband services.

The lack of ICT services is obviously a huge problem in the effort to rebuild the country and its economy. Historically, satellite has been used to support the majority of communications into and out of Haiti; however it has limited capacity to support evolving broadband applications such as video streaming. Microwave links into the Dominican Republic are also used along with an existing subsea cable connecting Haiti to the Bahamas whose long-term outage highlighted the need for this new subsea cable. Telecommunications is critical for the development of all countries, but this is especially true in impoverished countries like Haiti. Connecting this cable means that Haiti will be connected to the rest of the world via a secure, ultra-high capacity link. Having reliable and efficient telecommunications services means that services can be developed in areas including telemedicine, education, government and NGO relations, financial services and internet services.

Developing these services will also attract foreign investment into the country, which in turns means employment for local people. Telecommunications is therefore really a key driver for the economic development of the country and it’s also a key element for improving the quality of life for the Haitian people. There is still a lot of work to do to rebuild Haiti and its communications infrastructure; however this new cable is a big step forward for them. “

Stephen Jordan, founder and executive director, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (U.S. Chamber BCLC) remarked, “I am so glad that Alcatel-Lucent and Digicel stepped up to the plate.  Communications are vital for progress and development, and this is going to empower Haitians at every level of society.”

When I was in the region at the time of the earthquake two years ago, I didn’t know thPicture of Marie Thérèse Royce in Haitiat our company and its sector colleagues would be providing part of Haiti’s international assistance. Alcatel-Lucent’s employees recognized the need for immediate support, successfully restoring communications within days for our wireless customer Digicel. In coordination with new management at our 20-year customer Natcom, formerly known as the government-owned Teleco, we assisted with reliability and resiliency recommendations. We completed our network assessment and restored full-fixed line service including international links with the Dominican Republic. When I visited a few months later, I was moved by my time spent in the tent cities and seeing the impact on the Haitians firsthand.  In the public meeting at the US Department of State I shared my experience regarding our Haitian relief and reconstruction efforts.

It is safe to say that the destruction of Haiti’s infrastructure and other extensive damage caused by the earthquake set back Haiti’s development significantly. As a company we executed our disaster relief plan, and through the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation we instituted our Haiti employee matching program, raising nearly $300,000. This relief aid was given to Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross, Hope for Haiti, UNICEF and the Resource Foundation.

At the US Chamber BCLC Haiti Jobs Summit the country’s near term and long-term development plans were shared.  Rick Nilsson and I listened with great interest to the Ambassadors and companies.  It became clear that decentralization of the population is a priority. The goal can be achieved through the implementation of high speed broadband for e-education, e-health, public safety, tourism, and transportation initiatives for additional cities outside of the capitol.  The World Bank’s Information and Communications for Development report provided compelling documentation regarding the relationship between broadband penetration and increased GDP growth. Broadband supports decentralization and job creation. We learned that Haiti had the lowest broadband penetration and internet usage in the Caribbean according to the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) figures prior to the earthquake.

In the first year after the quake, international callers and internet users continued to be unable to use Natcom’s submarine cable network due to extensive damage. Alcatel-Lucent continued to advocate that the one submarine cable link be restored and an additional submarine cable link into Haiti be created as quickly as possible, establishing two cable links. We knew that the two submarine cables – together – would provide diversity and price competition, similar to other countries in the region. The cost saving benefits would spread to companies and people.

The new submarine cable is an important part of Haiti’s Recovery and Growth.

As a company, Alcatel-Lucent is committed to improving broadband access for Haiti as well as many other countries. In today’s world, access to information and communications networks is nearly as important as access to clean water and transportation. With two and one-half billion people still unable to connect to mobile telephony or broadband, we believe it is our responsibility to help close this digital divide.

We look forward to being a partner with Haiti in the years to come for this endeavor and I am remain committed personally to ensure that Haiti truly becomes a better place to live for its people.

[EDITORS NOTE: This blog reposted with permission. Original post can be found on Alcatel-Lucents blog.]