Of all the communications sectors affected by the earthquake in Haiti, broadcasters suffered the most.
That’s according to Federal Communications Commission officials who went to Port-au-Prince in January to assess communications damage and help that country’s communications regulators with their restoration efforts.
The team was deployed in response to a request from Director General Montàigne Marcelin of Conseil National des Télécommunications, or Conatel, the communications agency in Haiti, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In an update delivered to commissioners during last week’s open meeting, Mindel Del La Torre, chief of the International Bureau, and Jamie Barnett, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, detailed the efforts of FCC employees to help Haiti in the last week in January.
Many of the communications providers in the quake zone are working against tremendous odds; some had deaths in their families or were left homeless by the disaster, or their facilities and equipment were damaged, De La Torre said.
One communications network was working after the earthquake but went down after 15 hours because of a lack of generator fuel, she said.
Before the earthquake, Port-au-Prince had some 50 radio stations and 18 TV stations operating. Now, about 30 radio stations are on the air as well as six TV stations, she said. Broadcasters in the Haitian quake zone suffered “substantial equipment damage,” she said.
Hard-wired phones were heavily damaged. There were 108,000 telephone lines in the country in 2008. Post-quake, Port-au-Prince and other effected areas have had a total loss of wireline infrastructure and those phones are still not working, she said.
Wireless service fared better in the quake. Haiti had 2.5 million cell users before the quake and some three out of every 10 Haitians had a cellphone. Now, new equipment has replaced destroyed cell sites and cell coverage is nearly back to 100%, said De La Torre.
The commission intends to help with the restoration of Haiti’s communications over the long term.