Mobile technology is key to rebuilding Haiti’s economy. ©IFC
Daniel Trezil is a 28-year-old law student from the slum of Jalousie, in Port-au-Prince. Mobile technology plays an important role in his life. He not only earns a living repairing mobile phones from his street stall, but as a student he also recognizes that technology is an important tool for Haiti’s youth and for the future of the country. “As time passes, Haiti is progressing,” Trezil says. “We live in a time of great advancement.”
But these advancements, and the technology that is driving them, were not always so accessible to Haitians.
Even before the damages caused by the massive 2010 earthquake, telecom services in the country were underdeveloped: only one in three citizens had a mobile phone, fewer than one in 100 had access to the Internet, and landline penetration was only 1.2 percent—the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Teleco, the state-owned phone company, started facing grave challenges when Haiti opened the telecom sector to competition in 2000. By 2009, the company was losing nearly $1.5 million each month.
That began to change when IFC—with support from DevCo, a multi-donor facility affiliated with the Private Infrastructure Development Group—helped the government find a partner to transform Teleco and drive growth in the telecom market. IFC worked closely with the government to structure a public-private partnership that would help Haitians conduct business, access innovative tools, and stay connected in an often unstable post-earthquake environment.
In 2010, the Government of Haiti signed a PPP with Vietnam’s Viettel. The company bought a 60-percent stake in Teleco and invested nearly $100 million to upgrade infrastructure and services across Haiti. Teleco was rebranded as Natcom Haiti, launching its GSM/3G services in the mobile sector and spurring competition. It was the largest private investment in the country since the earthquake that struck Haiti earlier that year.
Since then, Natcom’s customer base has jumped from 75,000 to 1.8 million—Haitians who now have enhanced connectivity and access to mobile technology through the Natcom network. And the Government of Haiti has gone from losing $1.5 million a month to earning revenue from its 40-percent stake in Natcom, as well as tax revenues from the high-performing company.
But that’s only the beginning of the company’s vision to help Haitians fast-forward to the future. To improve global Internet connectivity and offer Internet access to Haiti’s remote towns, Viettel also plans to build the country’s first fiber optic cable network, with 3,000 kilometers. This will open a second access point to submarine fiber optic cables.
This expansion is particularly important for Haiti’s younger generations—people like law student Trezil, who view mobile technology as their passport to a more economically prosperous Haiti. He’s optimistic about the nation’s prospects, as well as his own. “Current smart phones give us access to many interesting apps that will develop the intelligence of our young Haitians,” Trezil says.
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Published in October 2016