Can You Hear us Now? Cellular Phones Give Haitians a Voice
For too long, Haiti has been in a communication stranglehold. Making a telephone call through the local Teleco station, when it worked, was a long and expensive ordeal. Sending a letter was like buying a lottery ticket - better to send it on the "Diaspora Express" by handing it to someone you know going to the U.S.A. But Haitians now have more communication options than ever before - the impact of cellular technology has been particularly dramatic.
In Haiti, access to the internet has increased dramatically. In 2000, there were two cybercafes in Port au Prince. By 2002, there were hundreds though many of them consisted of little more than a single terminal. From there, cybercafes opened in regional centers and even in smaller towns. Even Thomonde on the Central Plateau has one. But in a country that is mostly rural and where illiteracy is still a serious developmental challenge, the internet is out of reach for most.
Cellular technology, however, has spread faster than anyone had anticipated both in Haiti and around the world. An article on BBC Online notes that cell phones can improve the economic life of an entire population as traders can get better prices, sell goods faster, and ensure less went to waste. In a globalized economy, being competitive means being connected.
It was the private sector, and certainly not Teleco, that increased access and availability of cellular technology. Digicel Haiti is able to provide coverage for the most populated (and largely coastal) regions of the country. We hope that as time goes on, coverage will increase in even the most rural areas. Friends and family members around the world can add minutes to someone's account online. Text messages can be sent and received.
Digicel's management noted that their success in Haiti has exceeded their expectations. Digicel Haiti launhced in May 2007 and since then has invested over 260 million to improve Haiti's cellular infrastructure and meet demand. This is the largest investment in Haiti ever by an international corporation. Digicel also employs 650 Haitian staff members.
Haiti does not have a long tradition of corporate philanthropy. Slowly this seems to be changing and Digicel is playing a role. The corporation formed the Digicel Haiti Foundation and made a committment to work with the Haitian government on educational programs. It is a beneficial relationship in that if Digicel is to continue growing, it will need an educated workforce. This will benefit Haiti in many other domains as well. The Digicel Haiti Foundation has made an initial commitment of rebuilding 20 primary schools, two in each district.
Haiti has been isolated for too long. Though we are excited that access to the internet continues to increase, there is no substitute for cellular technology. Though it has been (widely) available for only two years in Haiti, the positive results are apparent. For more information on Digicel, please viewed the attached fact sheet.