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#4877: Internet arrives in Haiti, and some wonder about priorities , (fwd)

From: Yacine Khelladi <yacine@aacr.net>

Internet arrives in Haiti, and some wonder about priorities
By Mark Fineman Los Angeles Times, 7/23/2000

PETIONVILLE, Haiti - Dmitri Fourcand started out early one morning at
Station 2 in the Art Deco cafe known as Click 123.

By nightfall, the graphic designer, 28, had marketed an array of
from his cyber-mall. He had made a tidy commission and had swapped
dozens of
e-mail messages with customers the world over - all without phone or
lines in a nation that ranks among the world's poorest.

"When I look at that screen, I'm not in Haiti anymore, Fourcand said as
young Haitians all around him downloaded research papers from France,
explored job opportunities in Florida and, yes, ventured into steamier
subjects with far-off cyber-suitors in chat rooms.

"When I'm on the Net, I'm a citizen of the world. I can see how the
world is

It is a scene that is repeating itself daily now in more than a dozen
generator-powered cyber-cafes in this mountainside suburb of the Haitian

It is a phenomenon many analysts here say could revolutionize Haiti. And
is beginning to offer a precious sliver of hope for the younger
of a country that 2 million Haitians have left behind.

Haiti is, after all, a nation in disrepair: There are just 60,000 phone
lines in this nation of nearly 8 million people. Most of the country has
electricity, no clean drinking water, no paved roads.

And at least two-thirds of the population is illiterate - after a
of dictatorships taught that information was an evil.

"The Internet is important because it has the potential to open up the
nation to the rest of the world," said Francois Benoit, the general
of the company that pioneered the Internet in Haiti. Benoit's Alpha
Communications Network is the first of three servers to set up shop,
using a
technology declassified by the US military in the mid-1990s. Spread
technology, he said, has made it possible to relay Internet connections
without phone or cable lines, and he says his company intends to extend
network nationwide.

Benoit's cyber-customers buy an antenna for $4,000 that links them to
Alpha's satellite ground station, and then they pay a $250 monthly fee
the service.

Although far cheaper than a new national phone system, the prices remain
beyond the reach of most Haitians.

"Let's get real. In Haiti, the first step is give the people something
eat," said Wilhem Trouillot, administrator and co-owner of the Click 123
cyber-cafe, which mostly draws Haiti's educated elite. In a nation where
annual per capita income is less than $400, the fees are steep: At Click
123, members pay $37.50 for a 20-hour block of time on the Internet.
Roc, who opened a combination cyber-cafe and cultural center a month ago
the capital, Port-au-Prince, agreed that most Haitians can't afford such
extravagance. But Roc, a prominent journalist, stresses that the
remains in its infancy here.

"This tool has to be made available to the poor - to the masses - and it
will in time," said Roc, who offers membership discounts to students and
poor." But it is a luxury and shall remain so for several years, and
why you have the success of the cyber-cafe."

In fact, many Haitians use the cafes not to surf the Net but to reach
relatives, using rented headsets to tap into Web sites offering free

(C) Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company Boston Globe Extranet