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NGO Networks In Haiti Cause Problems For ISPs 108

Posted by kdawson
from the outa-my-bandwidth dept.
angry tapir sends in an article from GoodGear Guide that begins: "While the communications networks that aid groups set up quickly following the earthquake in Haiti were surely critical to rescue efforts, the new networks have had some negative effects on the local ISP community. More than a month after the earthquake devastated the island nation, local ISPs are starting to grumble about being left out of business opportunities and about how some of the temporary equipment — using spectrum without proper authorization — is interfering with their own expensive networks, causing a degradation of their services."
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NGO Networks In Haiti Cause Problems For ISPs

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  • goes un-complained about
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Yes, yes. You paid good money for those spectrum licenses, I hear ya. Fat lot of good they'd do you if all your customers are dead, dying or diseased, eh? So just avoid playing the injured party and just suffer with the interference for another month while people migrate, mmmk? Mmmk.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BlueTrin (683373)
      I hear you, however this era of 'altruism' may feel like we are patronizing the Haitians. It is true that giving food and temporary shelters is great and will save some lifes, but you cannot just rebuild a country by doing this.

      But, in order to rebuild a country, you need more than just throwing food at refugees. This [newsweek.com] article is interesting as it brings Katrina experience to help Haiti. It seems the best results happen when the locals are involved. There are many reports of this in Thailand after the tsu
      • by cHALiTO (101461) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [olahcle]> on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:53AM (#31242900) Homepage

        like, for example, hire the local ISPs for connectivity. I'm sure they can use the business, and their employees families too.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Oh god, no, never.The aid agencies will have their systems ready and tested, good to go. The local ISPs will not be tailored for their needs and plenty of man-hours would be lost in pointless busywork ironing out interoperability problems.

          • So NGO's just get to violate local law whenever they find this appropriate ? They don't even have the small modicum of politeness of using military frequencies only ?

            Can I play too ? I see very urgent needs. Very urgent indeed. Of course, you won't be able to receive the BBC radio anymore. Anywhere in the world. But it'd be really cool for me to play tetris with a south korean friend over a radio link.

          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            Yeah, and when the relief forces pull out many years from now, who do you think will still be around? The local ISPs or the NGOs?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by demonlapin (527802)
      A really good deed that would have helped the country out would be for the NGO's to hire local ISPs for their connection. Restarts the local economy while taking advantage of people who've already solved most of the same problems you're going to have.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by segedunum (883035)
      It's not exactly a good deed. The good deed would have been to help the existing infrastructure. I always get cynical about these disasters and the appeals that inevitably follow, because with all of that cash sloshing around it's a nice big target for unscrupulous people and organisations to walk in and start taking a chunk of the pie.

      Personally, it's why I only give to local charities I know and then work outwards. That might seem harsh, but I want to know that my money has actually gone somewhere and
      • Very good grasp of the situation. But we're living in the year 2000. If we had this attitude from 1950 and then consistently pushed it worldwide there might be significantly less of a third world.

        But today "development aid" and direct aid is the ONLY contributor to so many economies, even for supposedly "modern" countries like Morocco, 50% is direct and indirect aid. By now it's so bad that if aid were to stop to a lot of countries, including even Morocco, they'd lose the ability to feed their own people.

        So

      • I understand your point that fixing the problems of a developing community by just stepping in and doing it yourself doesn't affect lasting change. Feel-good projects like building schools in Africa often end up abandoned by the community once the builders leave because we try to implement solutions that are specific to our society without considering that other societies simply work differently. In the long term, projects that instead empower the community to solve their own problems (for instance, micro-l

  • Damn it.... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If it weren't for the temporary networks interfering with my wireless I would have had first post

  • Flawed system. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by migla (1099771) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:49AM (#31241834)

    I didn't rtfa, so I don't know if this is analogous to donating clothes to poor countries, but in that case, the free clothes have devastated local clothes industry. There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

    • Re:Flawed system. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @02:59AM (#31241874) Homepage Journal

      There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

      It creates dependency. My wife hand feeds our seven year old son. Now when he wants something done he goes to her and takes up her time. Additionally he doesn't learn how to do things himself.

    • Fundamental flaw in the system? I didn't think people choosing free/really cheap products over more expensive products is necessarily a flaw in the system. If anything, it's similar to how sweat shops affect an industry: Really cheap labor and really cheap materials from one country being dumped into another country that produces the same good, but at higher costs.

      If your industries can't compete with one product, don't whine about it. Make another product and sell it to them! Maybe they should put those f
    • Re:Flawed system. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by outsider007 (115534) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @03:01AM (#31241888)

      The aid groups are not 'donating internets' as a relief measure, they just need the networks to be up to run their operation.
      The networks are temporary and it doesn't sound like the NGOs have a problem working with local ISPs so no big deal.
      I guess the story is about greedy ISPs but hey, these guys have been through hell too and they have a right to want things to get back to normal.

      • Re:Flawed system. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sn00ker (172521) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @05:33AM (#31242520) Homepage

        I guess the story is about greedy ISPs

        What's greedy about it? A fundamental principle of international aid (and given that within the past six weeks I've been in the Solomon Islands, and on stand-by to go to Haiti, the Cook Islands and Tonga, to help with disaster relief I think I've got some clue on the topic) is that you try and spend aid money in the affected community. The people who live there and the businesses that operate there must remain viable once the relief effort is over, and that means keeping businesses alive until the locals are in a position to earn and spend money themselves.

        Donating services is nice if the locals cannot immediately furnish your requirements, but as soon as there's local capability available for utilisation it is a failure of the aid system if that capability goes unused. It is not a good use of aid money to use donated services in place of local ones when carrying out relief work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shinobi (19308)

          Indeed. SIDA, the Swedish government organization handling aid etc has operated like that since the 70's. Instead of directly bringing children's teachers, they train adults to become teachers. Sanitation engineers are sent out as tutors, taking on apprentices sort of, that sort of thing.

          SIDA has repeatedly come under fire however, both domestically and internationally, for their approach, especially from religiously influenced charities, for their method of not donating stuff directly, main accusation bein

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            SIDA has repeatedly come under fire however, both domestically and internationally, for their approach, especially from religiously influenced charities, for their method of not donating stuff directly, main accusation being that it's "not compassionate enough".

            Give a man a fish, and you make him dependent on you for food. This is what organized religion has been up to since it was invented. You learn to go to them with all your problems, appropriate or not.

            • Of course the fact that the idea of working with and training locals is something that was first introduced by religious organizations is completely irrelevant. Every religious relief organization that I know of that does long term work with the impoverished hires and trains locals to move their work forward.
              • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

                by drinkypoo (153816)

                Of course the fact that the idea of working with and training locals is something that was first introduced by religious organizations is completely irrelevant.

                Living up to your nickname, I see. It's entirely relevant; the problem is that "working with and training" is also known as "indoctrinating" and they're continually taught that god is the root solution to all their problems, just as the Salvation Army does today. Believing in yourself is the real answer.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stdarg (456557)

          What's greedy about it?

          What's greedy about it is that there's a massive international relief effort going on and rather than being part of it the local ISPs want to profit from it. Look at the wording in the article, they feel left out of "business opportunities."

          A fundamental principle of international aid (and given that within the past six weeks I've been in the Solomon Islands, and on stand-by to go to Haiti, the Cook Islands and Tonga, to help with disaster relief I think I've got some clue on the topic) is that you try and spend aid money in the affected community.

          I understand that you know a lot about this, but that doesn't make it correct in every situation. International aid is pretty inefficient in places like Africa, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan where spending locally means a big chunk of the money disappears to corruption,

          • by natehoy (1608657)

            The ISPs apparently have fully functional networks again, they obviously don't need much help. They're just missing out on some profits that wouldn't be there anyway without the earthquake. It's not like their customers are canceling accounts and switching over to the free NGO network.

            Except they don't have fully-functional networks again, and that is due in some part to interference from the unlicensed networks the NGOs established.

            The NGOs, however, have caused another set of problems as well. Many began using their wireless and satellite equipment without getting approval to use the required frequencies. That's in part because the Haitian regulatory authority's office had collapsed. "Their ability to license people in 48 hours or so [after the quake] was nonexistent," said Zavazava. "So people came in and started switching on their equipment and operating."

            That caused interference with local ISPs who are licensed to use the spectrum, thus degrading the service that they are offering to customers, Zavazava and Bruno said. It continues to be a problem.

            "This is causing discomfort on the part of local operators who have invested quite a lot of money in getting licenses and buying the equipment they are using," Zavazava said.

            Haiti's regulatory authority has issued a statement asking all visitors to indicate which frequencies they are using in an attempt to harmonize operations, but many have not stepped forward, Zavazava said.

            I'm not saying the NGOs necessarily did anything WRONG, they came in, needed communications, and put up a series of networks so they could communicate. The local ISPs, by and large, survived the quake but couldn't come online fast enough for the NGOs and aid organizations to rely on them, so the organizations did what they had to do to feed people and get me

            • by stdarg (456557)

              Except they don't have fully-functional networks again, and that is due in some part to interference from the unlicensed networks the NGOs established.

              True, though I would argue the networks are fully functional just not in use due to interference. My point was they apparently haven't suffered massive infrastructure losses that are going to cost them money to repair. Other businesses have no doubt suffered massive losses and need help too. You never answered my question about why allocating aid to the ISPs is more worthy than allocating aid to businesses that obviously suffered more.

              However, you're now looking at a situation where the ISP is ready to go back online, but they can't activate their network on their licensed frequencies because someone else has usurped them. For good reason, and with good intentions, but now it's preventing parts of the local economy from starting up again.

              Well, the interference issues are real but I think you're massively overs

    • Re:Flawed system. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FishTankX (1539069) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @03:06AM (#31241912)

      This is the fundamental reason why we don't dump all of our uneaten food into starving countries. Doing so strongly devalues the local farmer's products and makes it difficult for them to buy seed and fertilizer for the next year.

      It's extremely difficult to compete with free or very, very cheap. In the corporate world, if this is done it's called 'dumping'. In the world food aid world, it's only done if the demand for food far outstrips supplies and doing so would not impact food prices significantly.

      Thus, why the west can live in food glut conditions while many africans are malnourished. Suddenly feeding them all for free would collapse the mainstay of their internal economy.

      Tricky, isn't it?

      • by stdarg (456557)

        There's a huge difference between affecting a nation's food security (which can mean mass starvation if exports fluctuate) and affecting a nation's ISPs.

      • This is the fundamental reason why we don't dump all of our uneaten food into starving countries. Doing so strongly devalues the local farmer's products and makes it difficult for them to buy seed and fertilizer for the next year.

        We do dump food.

        In the 80's, Regan re-instituted all the price controls and tariffs on sugar. Poorer countries which relied on the US for sugar sales suddenly found a giant chunk of their exports gone, and farmers switched to growing different crops.

        What did we do then? Pr

      • This is the fundamental reason why we don't dump all of our uneaten food into starving countries.

        This is Haiti. We do dump our uneaten food. That's what destroyed the Haitian farming industry, which is who such a large part of the population lives in Port au Prince instead of the countryside, which is why so many people died when the earthquake struck.

    • by thsths (31372)

      > There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

      The flaw is that the free stuff will not flow forever. So it is important to maintain both commercially viable local systems, and a functioning local society. Both aspects have received way too little attention in Haiti, and that is the reason that most of the aid will fail in making a lasting impact.

      • by stdarg (456557)

        The reasoning is sound, but applying it to this situation is flawed. If the NGOs provide free food, nobody will buy local food. The NGOs are not providing free internet access, they are *using* internet access. No Haitians are canceling their ISP accounts and switching over to the free network. So the ISPs are not being impacted at all by this, except for the issues with interference, which I'm sure will be sorted out in due time.

    • in that case, the free clothes have devastated local clothes industry. There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

      Agreed. That's why I love having support and being able to sit on the couch all day long, every day. But for some reason, I'm barely strong enough to even stand. Oh well, who needs muscles anyway?

      • by sheph (955019)
        Mod parent up. It's a very good point, and we have had the same problem here in the US with welfare. It's all well and good to give someone a hand and get them back on the feet, but when you care for them cradle to grave dictating every aspect of their lives I'd say that's more like slavery. Not saying that's what's happening in Haiti now but it could wind up that way if we don't establish a timeline and involve the locals in rebuilding their country.
    • I think this is a little different than just giving out free clothes. It's more like someone coming into your clothing factory, using your machines which YOU paid for and manufacturing and giving away free clothes. Which hurts your business. Not saying their whining is right - I'm just saying I do get where they are coming from.
      • by sn00ker (172521)
        Their "whining", as you put it, is exactly right. The aid organisations have millions of dollars to spend on rebuilding Haiti, and that money is, according to fundamental principles of humanitarian aid, best spent in the local community. That means spending it with local businesses to procure goods and services for use in the aid effort. That means, in this case, paying local ISPs for service. It's not whining at all, it's an observation that there's local capacity that's not being used, or, in the cases wh
      • by stdarg (456557)

        The NGOs are not taking away customers or resources from the ISPs so that analogy doesn't work. (Well, except for the interference issue, which is true but simply a result of the non-functioning Haitian government in the aftermath of the earthquake... I'm sure they will get their frequencies sorted out.)

        It's more like this (after the interference issues are solved). Someone came in and set up their own clothing factory, but they are only providing clothing to their own workers. Those workers wouldn't even b

    • No it isn't... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:04AM (#31242652) Journal

      Nothing is being "donated to the country". At least regarding "the internets".

      NGOs that are there to provide aid got their own satellite and wireless links because none of the local IPSs were operational at the moment. Nothing is being donated (to Haiti) - it is for their own operational and personal use.
      Later, since Haitian internet backbone is operational, the backhaul bandwidth was donated (to the NGOs) by two local ISPs - AccessHaiti and MultiLink.

      So in fact, Haitian companies are donating the bandwidth to NGOs who are donating the humanitarian aid and services to Haiti.

      But, now that the local small ISPs are coming back online, they (local ISPs) find that the NGOs are quite happy with their current setup and don't really need the local wireless services - but are willing to switch, they just need more time.
      They are kinda busy doing something a little more important at the moment.

      Being practically the only game in town (read: the only paying customers) - local ISPs would really like to sell them their services.
      But, on top of that, the wireless relays the NGOs have set up for themselves are drowning out the wireless signal of the local ISPs.

      So, basically...
      1 - Local ISP companies are providing the bandwidth to the relief workers for free. Which will probably change in the future.
      2 - NGOs have their own equipment for the use and distributing of that bandwidth - and they are providing the humanitarian aid for free. They are willing to pay for the bandwidth but are asking for more time to switch to the local providers as they are rather busy at the moment.
      3 - Local small ISPs would like to sell THEIR bandwidth (that they will buy from the ISPs mentioned under 1) to the NGOs - but they lack the capacity to do that as their wireless networks are being drowned out by the signal of the NGO's equipment.

      So... it is not the case of donated food drowning out the local production.
      But it is going to be, one way or the other, for a while at least. Because the local ISPs want it that way.
      Cause it will take time for the local customers to be able to match the NGO's ability to buy the services of the local ISPs.
      Who will then fix their prices to match the paying capabilities of the NGOs - NOT the local population.
      So... in the long run, the locals will have to pay more for less longer - because NGOs can pay more and thereby they set the prices.

      But in the LONGER run, when NGOs leave, locals will be left with a working ISP structure, and some money will flow into the community.
      So, not quite like donating food. Or clothes.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Donating clothes is bad, but in my experience, the most likely situation here is that cell phone operators fear that people get used to cheap service and they want their monopoly back.
    • There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

      Would you be upset if (e.g.) Wal-Mart came into your town, opened a mega-market, and promptly put every mom and pop store out of business because they sell things cheaper? How do you think that any local industry can compete with "free"? (FWIW, free is a real benefit to the people getting the free stuff, but it does leave the local economy unable to provide for itself. Autarky isn't that important in developed countries, but when you live somewhere with civil unrest or unreliable utilities, where you might

      • by bsDaemon (87307)
        They did that in the town where I grew up. Three other grocery stores went under within 6 months, and then once most of the competition was removed, the quality of the produce at the wal-mart went down because they didn't need to put a show on anymore. A bunch of small, independent shops of various sorts went under, too. I boycotted the new walmart for the first 4 years after it opened. I fucking hate that place. I'd rather drive farther and pay more than go to walmart if I can at all help it, but then
    • by ivoras (455934)

      There's some fundamental flaw in the system if giving people free stuff is bad for them...

      Yes, it's called "human nature" and by overwhelming agreement it's one of the worst things in the universe. Unfortunately, no two people agree on how to fix it...

    • Uum, it’s the same fundamental flaw in logic, as giving more food to a country, that the land can support by itself. (Talking about long-term here. Not about short-term catastrophes.)
      Because the only effect that will have, in of course a growing population. Because people in poor countries tend to get more children, to cope with deaths. So you have to give even more.
      Or if you don’t, even more children will die of hunger.

      So the intention of saving children from starvation, has turned into making

  • Dead Aid (Score:2, Insightful)

    by matushorvath (972424)

    I read an interesting book on the subject, by an African woman with first hand experience with aid (Dambisa Moyo: Dead Aid - Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa). It explains with how sending aid to poor countries often causes more problems then it solves. If you give something for free, you ruin the part of economy that provided the same thing for money. Then when the aid stops, there are no local producers to replace it. The countries become dependent on aid.

    Of course this does

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EzInKy (115248)

      If this is a give a fish/teach to fish case wouldn't the best thing for the Haitian people be to instruct them how to connect without ISPs? That way they would be free from both NGO dependence and protected from profiteers.

      • by argent (18001)

        If this is a give a fish/teach to fish case wouldn't the best thing for the Haitian people be to instruct them how to connect without ISPs?

        Through Magic Fiber Pixies perhaps?

      • by KlaymenDK (713149)

        The Haitians can only rely on the NGO's instead of their ISP's while the NGO's are there, offering aid. So it's more a case of "give them fish for a while", which, if you think about it, is even more catastrophic because it undercuts the existing system with something that's only transient.

        how to connect without ISPs?

        If you have a method for this, you truly have struck gold! Even more so in light of ACTA and so on.

        • by EzInKy (115248)

          Perhaps this [wikipedia.org] would be a decent start?

          • by KlaymenDK (713149)

            True, but I can't see this being "taught" (to Haitians in particular and Internet users in general) until there is not only a functioning proof of concept, but it's a well-tested, wide-spread, common thing to do.

            That said, that's exactly what I think we will have to do in the future if regulation continues on its current path.

    • by stdarg (456557)

      I don't buy that argument. I mean, I buy it in the sense that I know it happens, but it's not necessary at all. Here's how it *should* work.

      The US gives free food to Haiti, the Haitians are happy. The farmers are a bit worried -- how do they compete with free once the disaster is over?

      The Haitian government recognizes this and says, don't worry farmers, you know how the US massively subsidizes their own farmers? Guess what, we're doing that too! The overall economic cost is equal since the people will be sl

      • by stdarg (456557)

        Sorry, I was talking about your note on African aid, and extending it to a hypothetical example of food aid in Haiti. I'm not sure that was clear. I think the approach I outlined works in any country and any industry. It's basic protectionism and all it requires is the political will to make happen. African countries could do the same thing with e.g. pharmaceuticals if they wanted to.

  • That ends with "He had a hat!"
  • Capitalism, Baby! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    There is never a disaster big enough to stop capitalist exploitation.

  • Inveneo [inveneo.org] certainly does involve local service providers in their work. In fact, that is what they are all about. I recommend that you have a look at their interesting business model.

    P.S. Their "How to Deploy Long-Distance WiFi in Haiti" [inveneo.org] is a very informative read for the radio geeks among us.

    P.P.S. I am a former Inveneo employee.

  • by bezenek (958723) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @06:43AM (#31242838) Journal
    Now we can ship 100,000 Mexican workers to Haiti to rebuild everything. They will earn US government-subsidized wages while the Haitians--who need the money/work--relax and watch!

    Oh... Sorry... That was Katrina/New Orleans.

    -Todd
  • by pointbeing (701902) on Tuesday February 23, 2010 @08:32AM (#31243584)

    ...we showed up with a pair of satellite dishes but all our network connections are wired. Additionally, we didn't feel we could or should rely on local ISPs for communications since we need those communications to be reliable and secure and sending a buncha people down there with no way to talk across the pond to home station didn't seem like the smartest move I've heard of.

    So now the ISPs want the NGOs to shut off all the expensive hardware folks shipped down there and use local resources?

    In the interest of full disclosure we do work for a GO, just not the one in Haiti.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      I think there are two factors at work.

      First, of course, being that the local ISP wants aid organizations to use them because it's profitable. That part appears to be greedy, vying for profits from someone who is trying to help your country out.

      Second, and just as important, is that the aid organization is preventing the ISP from engaging in their normal business, by using equipment that interferes with the ISP's assigned and licensed frequencies. This is not greed on the part of the ISP, but simply a desi

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