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Phone network

Agencies launch effort to aid quake communications

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / January 15, 2010

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Rescue efforts in Haiti will be hindered by a dire lack of telecommunications services. Even before the earthquake, Haiti had a primitive telecom system, with only 108,000 landline phone lines in 2008, or one for every 83 people, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

The country has far more cellphones, 3.2 million, but that is still only about one for every three people. And only 1 million of Haiti’s 9 million residents have Internet access.

Communications technicians from around the world are launching aid efforts. The US Southern Command, which oversees all US military activities in the Caribbean, is deploying satellite communications systems to support the humanitarian efforts. A French technology relief agency, Telecoms Sans Frontieres, or Telecoms Without Borders, has sent a team from Nicaragua, while another group is on the way from France.

Those teams will set up satellite calling stations, where Haitians will be able to place free phone calls to other countries.

Telecoms Without Borders is also using WiFi wireless networking technology to set up ad hoc networks that will enable aid workers to communicate.

The world’s major satellite communications companies are providing equipment and free access to their networks.

Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge is working with relief organizations, whose websites are being overwhelmed by offers of help. Spokesman Jeff Young said Akamai was in discussions to provide additional Internet capacity, free of charge, to relief agencies. “Some are experiencing overload,’’ Young said.

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Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti. (Globe File Photo) Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti.
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