When cellular telephone came to Haiti 10 years ago, we were promised a new dawn in communication. No longer would we have to endure the scratchy lines and long waits to connect to our loved ones back home.
Making a call to Haiti has become significantly easier and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the Haitian people have gotten short changed yet again in this deal.
Let’s take a look how far the cellular technology has come in the United States since 1999. We went from having to pay more than $1,000 a month for cell phone to now around $50 on the low end with carriers like Metro PCS. The U.S market has consolidated into a few carriers competing furiously to maintain its share. The days of dropped calls are long gone and we can talk free if you have the same carrier and at night you can talk for free, which has been the case here for a long time.
In Haiti, however, the market is still in its archaic stage. It took the arrival of Digicel into the market to ensure that the average Haitian or peasant to own a phone. The other existing carriers at the time, Haitel and Comcel – which later became Voila- made sure that cellular phone was a luxury item to most Haitians.
To be sure, Digicel is no champion of the poor. It has ensured that people have a constant need to buy their telephone cards, charging exorbitant fees for minute usage. So they give away the handset for a pittance and make a handsome profit on the phone card. Why is it that these telephone companies can’t give people a monthly plan like AT&T or Verizon? Part of the problem is that the Haitian government is complicit in this game. They don’t have the people’s best interests in mind.
These are the same people who destroyed Teleco by making it more a den of patronage than a telecommunication company. Teleco was poised to enter the cellular market back in 1999. Instead high-level government officials made deals for the private carriers where these officials take a percentage of the company in order to get a license. Teleco, which was once a jewel in the economy of the country has become a shell. Jean Bertrand Aristide made a comical entry into the sector by creating “ti Telefon 200” which quickly went under after his unceremonious exile to South Africa in February 2004. Aristide had spent years vowing not to sell Teleco and that such plans reek of neoliberalism bent on destroying Haiti. He managed to do that on his own without neo or good old fashion liberalism.
The other loser in this game is the Haitian diaspora who shells out its hard earned money unquestionably to send back to relatives back home. After all, they have to talk to them and keep abreast of their well being. Life has never been so good. What a racket. As long as we continue to take part on this scheme, it will flourish. It’s our money and we should ask the government to enact law to ensure that telephone becomes truly affordable. The Voice Over Internet technology is there for free and it is improving by the second. It is time for us to stand up and say no to the cell companies that are exploiting the people in Haiti and the U.S. We shouldn’t have to pay the kind of money that we’re paying. If they claim corporate responsibilities because they waste money during carnival by sponsoring some bands, that’s a flawed vision of responsibility. We prefer increment savings that help everyone instead of throwing money. They will also point to foundations that they’ve created, again the economic of scale doesn’t add up. The government had floated an idea of taxing people by the calls. That’s the wrong way to go about it. They need to tax these companies for every card they sell. You’ll see them quickly change the way they charge people.
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