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#590: Monopoly pulls plug on Haitian Internet provider (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Jennifer Bauduy

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Haiti's state telephone monopoly
pulled the plug on the country's largest Internet service provider on
Tuesday, bringing the information age to an abrupt halt at government
offices, businesses and many foreign embassies.
     Telecommunications d'Haiti, popularly known as Teleco, and the
National Telecommunications Council (Conatel), the government
communications regulator, charged Alpha Communications Network (ACN) with
violating the Teleco monopoly by selling international telephone cards and
providing international telephone service.
     Saying the illegal activity cost it $5 million in revenues per month,
the government regulators and Teleco took over and closed ACN's operating
     Alpha Communications officials denied they had done anything wrong.
"This is totally false. They know very well we don't have this capability,"
ACN President Claude Apaid told Reuters.
     ACN has been clashing with Teleco ever since it pioneered Internet
access in the western hemisphere's poorest nation three years ago.
     Teleco cut off ACN's phone lines two years ago, prompting the company
to transfer to a wireless network, sidestepping Teleco's expensive,
outmoded communications grid.
     Though Haiti battles unemployment of 70 percent and a per capita
income of only $250 annually, the Internet has attracted a loyal following
of several thousand users.
     The Internet has provided a valuable international communications tool
in a country where Teleco provides only 65,000 telephone lines for a
population of 7.5 million people, not even one line per 100 residents.
     Apaid called the telephone company's actions an "attack on free
     Employees at Teleco and Conatel said no one was available to comment
on the issue.
     Among customers that found themselves without service on Tuesday was
the Haiti government. Apaid said the presidential palace and prime
minister's office both use ACN to get online.
     "We are definitely spending more money today on long distance phone
calls as well as on faxes," said Asselin Charles, a spokesman for the
office of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.
     "It does make it more difficult to make contact with foreign countries
because we cannot use e-mail," he said.
     Shipping companies, banks, the State University of Haiti and many
schools were cut off from the Internet. A U.N. staffer said the world
body's office also no longer had access.
     The U.S. embassy said it was not affected because it uses a variety of
communications services.