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Reconnect the Caribbean

2017 was one of the most active hurricane seasons in the Caribbean on record. Five months after the major storms Irma and Marie devastated parts of the Caribbean, there are still far too many without access to the Internet and everything it offers. In our view, this is unacceptable.

The world has the resources to do more.

View our new Report from the Field: Post-Hurricane Connectivity in the Caribbean.

We ask governments, businesses, educational institutions, NGOs and others, both in the region and around the world, to join together with renewed determination and commitment to reconnect the Caribbean – and to build a more resilient infrastructure that will help the region recover more quickly from the next round of hurricanes.

Read about the actions we plan to take.

The frequency and intensity of the 2017 storms profoundly challenges the historic constraints of economy, infrastructure and human capacity that define small states. These constraints, including their impact on connectivity, were explored in the Internet Society report released last year: Ensuring Sustainable Connectivity in Small Island Developing States.

We must #ReconnectTheCaribbean – and make the infrastructure more resilient, because the storms will come again in 2018, 2019 and beyond.

We asked members on some of the affected islands about the current situation. These are their stories.

St. Maarten

“The impact of hurricane Irma was very devastating for the country. Almost 95 percent of the city was destroyed. The impact of hurricane Maria was less impactful but still causing more water damage to a country that was already flooded.

“Internet connectivity is provided by fixed, CATV and mobile operators. The fixed and CATV access infrastructures were for 75 percent destroyed. This is due to the “above” the ground networks. Presently mobile telephony services have been restored for 90 percent. The PSTN on which we deliver ADSL services is for 85 percent operational. The Internet services remain unstable as we need to replace all the DSLAMs. Several switches and routers were replaced. We ordered copper and fiber cables that still need to be sent to the island in order for us to restore fixed and CATV services optimally. On the mobile side, given that we lost several antennas, all this need to be replaced. In collaboration with the competitor operator UTS, we “patched” the network in order for us to deliver services in a provisory way. It will take several months to go back to the original situation.”

— Eldert Louisa, Chief Technology Officer, Telem

Puerto Rico

On 20 September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck catastrophically to Puerto Rico. The whole island suffered the fury of the weather phenomenon causing loss of life, food shortages, water and fuel. One of the most affected sectors were telecommunications. The lack of electricity and direct damage received hundreds of antennas left incommunicado to the general. This means that no Internet access, cellular communication, cable TV and radio stations available. On November 20, 2017, as reported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the state of communications in affected areas, 33% of cell sites on the island are out of service. In 24 of the 78 municipalities, cell sites are 50% off duty. This has sometimes led a lack of communication with the authorities handling the emergency. Instability in telecommunications has caused huge losses in trade and the banking sector after electronic transactions affected.

In mid-January 2018, according to the Government of Puerto Rico’s www.status.pr site, 8% of cell sites on the island remain out of service. However, many of the cell sites are only powered by generators that require regular refueling. The situation for broadband connectivity remains much worse. Significant numbers of people do not have connectivity through either cable services or wireline (DSL) connections, as those physical cables were destroyed and need to be replaced. In many cases the continued lack of electricity means there is no power for the cable or wireline connections.

Puerto Rico has received a lot of support from different organizations and companies specializing in areas of information and communication technologies. One of the projects most was the release of balloons to provide connectivity to the island. Best known as Project Loon, Google created the company in collaboration with Alphabet’s X.

The NetHope organization and companies like Facebook, Tesla, Microsoft, Cisco and ATT are offering support of their tactical response teams (TacOps) and “Cells on Light Trucks Satellite”, known as COLT. Cellular connection projects are also carried by drones (Flying Cow). The Government of Puerto Rico’s efforts to restore telecommunications are borne by the Telecommunications Regulatory Board and the Office of the Chief Information.

The Internet Society and the ISOC Mexico Chapter supported us through their social networks and with guidance on the proper use of bandwidth so that everyone can communicate with their loved ones.

Norberto Cruz Córdova, Board Member, ISOC Puerto Rico Chapter, with updates from Eduardo Diaz, Chair of the ISOC Puerto Rico Chapter

Dominica

The preferred way for a majority of individuals to access the internet right now is via Wifi. However, this is not available for the most part in the rural communities and the suburbs. Broadband connectivity is mainly available in Roseau and sparsely in some environs. Most people don’t have electrical connections to their homes and may resort to a generator for power as your house would have to be electrically certified to have it reconnected and about 60% of the homes are without roofs. These roofs would have to be reinstated before connectivity is restored and a proper broadband service installed. As of December 4th about 32,000 homes remained without electrical power supply.

— Craig Nesty, Chair, ISOC-Dominica, 13 January 2018

Opportunity in the Storm

The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and the regional volunteer-based, non-profit Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG) have committed to placing special attention to strengthening Caribbean Network resilience.The CTU has empaneled a special Commission for Caribbean Network Resilience to critically examine the region’s communications vulnerabilities and come up with recommendations for more resilient infrastructure, technologies and methods. CaribNOG is developing special software applications to address disaster preparedness and response. It is also designing technical workshops targeting network operators and computer engineers to help with the proliferation of autonomous networks and strengthening of critical Internet infrastructure in the Caribbean.

The scale of the devastation wrought by this season’s hurricanes is unprecedented in recent Caribbean communications history. However, the region is proving that it has both the will and support to strengthen its networks and to ensure that failure of critical internet infrastructure is not allowed to happen again.

Share our new report and help #ReconnectTheCaribbean