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Haiti’s Earthquake: One Year After

Posted January 18th, 2011 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

It’s one year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti and we at the FCC, like many other organizations that have worked to help with the recovery, look back and to the future to see what awaits the country.  International organizations, including the UN, agree that much remains to be done to help Haiti’s reconstruction.  Haiti is still hurting as a result of a natural disaster that, according to new estimates recently announced by the Haitian Prime Minister, killed more than 300,000 people and affected an estimated 3 million -- a third of Haiti’s population. 

Right after the earthquake, Haitians, many of whom struggled to obtain basic services even before the tragedy, became almost totally deprived of the ability to communicate with emergency relief services, relatives, friends and the rest of the world.  Restoring of telecommunications services, however, went relatively quickly and played a major role in rescue efforts after the earthquake.  Mobile phones proved very useful in helping find earthquake victims, and volunteers developed mobile apps to help navigate through the numerous dirt roads and alleyways in Port-au-Prince.  Telecommunications will also play a large role in Haiti’s ability to advance in the reconstruction of the country and as an aid in providing health-related and other basic services to the Haitian people.
The FCC has played a role in the effort to restore Haiti’s telecommunications infrastructure.  A cross-section of FCC staff from many bureaus has taken five missions to Haiti during the past year.  A first FCC team deployed to Haiti days after the earthquake to support a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Team, followed within days by a larger FCC team that conducted a detailed damage assessment and recommended reconstruction projects in a report to the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Subsequent teams worked hand-in-hand with CONATEL, the Haitian regulator, to conduct spectrum assessments and help restart broadcasts in northern Haiti.

Haiti’s mobile providers also contributed to significant improvements during the past year. They have actually increased network capacity beyond pre-earthquake levels, in part due to more demand and usage from aid workers and displaced families.  They also have opened a new world of financial services through mobile banking, which allows Haiti’s “unbanked” population, estimated in the hundreds of thousands, to save and transfer money via their mobile phones instead of traveling miles and waiting in long lines at the few remaining bank branches.  Last March, Digicel, a Caribbean wireless provider, launched a service in connection with Scotiabank called Tcho Tcho Mobile, winning a $2.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its efforts.  An aid organization, World Vision, tested Digicel’s service with its staff to assess its effectiveness in paying Haitians who participate in cash-for-work programs, and a number of local companies are using it to pay their employees.  In December, a joint venture of Haitian mobile provider Voilà and Unibank launched another mobile banking service called T-Cash.  The joint venture is also working with aid groups such as Mercy Corps and the International Red Cross to promote a mobile application developed in Haiti that sends targeted emergency and public health messages to Haitians via their mobile phones. 

While much remains to be done and visible progress is slow, the FCC, along with hundreds of businesses and aid groups, will continue to help in Haiti’s reconstruction efforts.

Posted in International Bureau
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Emergencies Abroad: What Do You Dial?

Posted December 1st, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

If you're traveling in Europe and suddenly you need to make an emergency call - what do you do?  Dial “112.”  Don’t call 911 as you would in the United States; that number doesn’t work in Europe.  Dialing 112 from any country in the European Union (EU) will connect you to emergency services, such as police, fire, and ambulance services.  (See the list of European Union member countries.)  Dialing 112 could be a life-saver and is completely free.  You can dial 112 from any mobile phone, landline, or payphone.  In most EU countries, the operator will speak both the local language and English (you can find country specific details). 

If you’re traveling to countries outside of Europe, check the State Department website before you depart to identify the emergency calling number in the countries you’ll be traveling to.  These numbers are available from the State Department.  (Click on the specific country, then search under “Information for Victims of Crime.”)  You will see that “112” also is the emergency calling number in many other countries.  But it is not the number everywhere.  For example, the emergency number in South Africa is “10111.”  And in some countries, there may be variations.  In India, the local equivalent to our “911” emergency number is “100,” but “112” also works on mobile phones; and from a mobile phone in South Korea, the number is “02-112.”  Be aware too that in some countries such as Brazil and Haiti, you have to call a different number for different services.  For example, in Brazil, the number for police is “190,” while the number for fire and medical is “193.”  When traveling abroad, also keep in mind that the response times and services available on the other end of the call may be different than those in your local community in the United States.     

Here is additional international travel information that you may find helpful:

Posted in International Bureau Mobile
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Welcome to WISENET

Posted October 5th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau


(Part of the ongoing WISENET Series)


As we open WISENET, I am pleased to welcome everyone to this experimental site designed to bring women in ICT together to share their professional experiences.  As I have described the site to women all over the world, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. When I wrote to Minister Jasna Matic from Serbia, she was delighted that we were starting WISENET as she sees it as a complement to her program to promote careers for young women in ICT, an international “Girls’s Day/Girls in ICT” program to give girls an opportunity to explore ICT professions. This was the first time I had heard of this program and it is exactly the kind of "networking" and "information sharing" that we hope WISENET will engender.  Clearly, given the response to the pre-launch of WISENET, there is a need for just such a site. This is an opportunity for all of us to make it as successful as we can, so please do join us and participate. And thanks so much to those of you who have already responded with your ideas for WISENET.  I'm at the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, and I'm looking forward to introducing WISENET to an even broader audience. I'll send an update from the Plenipot.

Posted in International Bureau Wisenet
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WISENET coming soon! Participate in the Women in ICT's Shared Experience Network

Posted September 21st, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

Very soon, the FCC’s International Bureau will launch a new section of FCC.gov called “Women in ICT’s Shared Excellence Network” (WISENET).  The site is an international online community of women in information, communications, and technology.  Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Baker will kick off the discussions.

WISENET will be a space for women in ICT from around the world to share views and professional information, and keep in touch with each others’ work and accomplishments. Through WISENET, not only will we be able to stay informed about each other’s professional lives, but we also will have access to resources and referrals we can all use as we face common challenges.  To encourage sharing, we envision a website which will host information that participants contribute.  This will include professional biographical information, as well as other ICT-related input. 

If you are interested in participating, please send to Irene.Wu@fcc.gov:

  1. Your photo, name, professional title, organization, city, and country, as you wish it to appear on the website.
  2. A short professional bio of less than 100 words.
  3. Links to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social networking sites.

Also, we encourage you to send in:

  1. Short blog posts (200 words or less) on topics of your choice – ICT issues, economic development, or your own professional career path.  It is certainly fine to draw on speeches, articles, or other material you may have already released to the public.
  2. Links to any upcoming events or projects you would like to share with the group.
  3. Links to any past events, publications, or other materials you would like to share with the group.

Please be an early contributor to WISENET by sending in your information by September 28, 2010!  We plan to “go live” by the end of the month. 

Posted in International Bureau Wisenet
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Haitian Art and the Learning Power of Information and Communications Technologies

Posted August 6th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

Recently, I visited an art exhibit in Washington, D.C. featuring the works of Haitian children.  If you live nearby or are coming to the capital for a visit, I encourage you to visit the exhibit. It’s called the “Healing Power of Art: Works of Art by Haitian Children After the Earthquake.” (The physical exhibit is at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, but you can also view the pictures on-line.

The artwork is mostly colorful, though especially the early pieces have some dark hues, undoubtedly reflecting the feelings of loss, fright, and sadness that hundreds of thousands of young Haitian children have experienced. At the exhibit, I saw in the children’s pictures some of the same things I’d seen in Haiti in January – images of crooked buildings, collapsed houses, helicopters overhead, dangling wires, a U.S. Navy ship in the port -- and some signs of hope like yellow suns. 



The earthquake took a heavy toll on schoolchildren and all elements of education in Haiti.  The exhibit noted that, on January 12, 4,000 Haitian children died while in the classroom, many others died elsewhere, and 500 teachers were killed. The earthquake destroyed 90 percent of the school infrastructure and now 1.2 million children are out of school. 

As First Lady Elisabeth Préval said of the children, “They are wounded in their bones and in their souls for having been the witnesses of an unimaginable human tragedy made of horrifying scenes of buildings collapsing on loved ones, people trapped under layers of concrete, countless bodies scattered on the streets . . .” She established recreation centers called “Plas Timoun” (A Place for Kids) to enable young children to express their feelings through art, music, theater, reading and sports. One of the activities is to paint pictures – in old school buses that now hold tables and art supplies. 

So while art has healing powers for the children of Haiti, as a telecommunications regulator, I see that information and communications technologies (ICTs) have tremendous learning power for Haiti.  ICTs can help children in Haiti learn, which in turn, will help them grow personally beyond the earthquake and, eventually, help them to rebuild their beloved country. 

As Haiti reconstructs Port-au-Prince and undertakes new construction in the outlying areas to encourage new population centers, I encourage planners and policy makers to integrate ICTs into their overall reconstruction efforts and investment plans.     

ICTs remove barriers of time and space, creating new possibilities.  ICTs can provide learning opportunities for children through online classes and radio and television broadcasts. ICTs can help Haiti train new teachers through interactive online courses.  ICTs can provide educational assistance from international aid organizations operating at a distance. Additionally, while Haiti lost many of its books and libraries, the Internet can serve as valuable research tool for teachers and students while print resources are scarce.

Universal education is vital to countries all over the world and achieving that universality is a challenge that we all face. At the FCC, we promote the use of broadband infrastructure for learning. As Haiti starts to reconstruct its telecommunications infrastructure, some broadband ideas that could be adapted for use include: providing digital literacy teacher training programs, making educational materials available electronically which widen access to information and expand knowledge, and transferring paper records to electronic forms on-line to protect them from physical destruction. 
Haiti still has a long road to recovery.  But like art, ICTs can shorten the distance. As the exhibit at the Smithsonian illustrates, art already is helping the children of Haiti heal. ICTs can help them learn

Posted in International Bureau
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Six Months Later: Challenges Continue and Communications Services are Key to Haiti’s Future

Posted July 12th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

Today, six months since the devastating January 12th earthquake in Haiti,   our hearts are with our neighbors in Haiti.  I am picturing many of the people I met in Haiti when I participated in the FCC’s communications assessment team there after the earthquake – from the government officials to the radio and TV broadcasters who were making the most of very little to the young boy delighted by a small ball.

The country has now moved from the initial recovery phase to reconstruction.  And yet, every day, our counterparts continue to be forced to work with limited resources and to strive against daunting challenges.

We at the FCC remain committed to helping Haiti improve its communications framework.  Communications services are key to Haiti's future.  As Haiti implements its reconstruction plans, including new "growth poles" of population centers, a diversity of competitive communications services will be critical for successful rebuilding of all sectors.  Communications services will fuel the economy and facilitate delivery of education, health care, and government services to new communities.  Whether through narrowband or broadband applications, communications and information technologies will drive the use of new media, mobile banking, and other applications that are important for both day-to-day life and long-term growth. 

Immediately after the earthquake, the private sector undertook enormous efforts to restore communications services in Haiti, and did so quickly and at substantial cost.  Now industry is a critical partner in Haiti’s rebuilding and will be a catalyst moving forward to bring innovative solutions to the myriad challenges facing the country.  As the government works hand-in-hand with industry through public-private partnerships, there will be greater opportunity to improve communications infrastructure and services, which in turn, will enable cross-sector development, create much needed jobs, and open new possibilities for all of the people of Haiti. 

We at the FCC look forward to continuing our strong relationship with our regulatory counterparts in Haiti, including during these difficult and critical next months that will set the stage for a brighter future.  Today, not only do we reaffirm our professional commitment to help Haiti, but we at the FCC send our heartfelt admiration for the resilience that the Haitian people have shown in light of such tremendous challenges.

Posted in International Bureau
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Final Reminders – What should I do when I return home?

Posted June 25th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

This week we have covered pre-departure steps, overseas calling alternatives, and VoIP services, all focused on avoiding excess charges.  Today we will wrap up the ”Wireless World Travel Week” with an overview of the international calling tips, as well as a few final reminders.

  1. Check with your provider before you travel to see if your phone will work abroad.
  2. If your phone will work, check with provider to see if you can buy a SIM card in the foreign country to avoid roaming charges.
  3. If your phone will not work abroad, choose an alternative calling method that is best for you – purchase or rental of a world phone for instance.
  4. Disable push notification and wireless network settings on your smartphone as much as possible to avoid unintentional data transfer charges.

If you are using a mobile phone abroad, you will need to be able to charge it.  Make sure you have the proper power adapters and converters for the country you are visiting, and any other equipment specific to your phone.

While you should be aware of all charges before you travel abroad, it is important to look closely at your invoice/bill to make sure that charges are accurate.  If there are any discrepancies, notify your provider immediately.  Keep in mind that roaming charges apply as soon as you arrive in a foreign country, so have a plan of action for placing calls abroad before you travel.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Can I make calls over the Internet from Wi-Fi hotspots?

Posted June 24th, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

[Addendum: The FCC does not endorse the VoIP services mentioned below or any distinct technology.]

We’ve gone over many different options for international calling which all revolved around use of wireless networks and landlines.  However, there is another cheap and easy way to make international calls called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through a Wi-Fi hotspot.  This allows you to call someone using high-speed Internet service instead of a telephone service.  Just make sure that your phone does not automatically connect to an international mobile network, which can be expensive to access.

Of course, you must have Internet access to use a VoIP service, as well as a computer with microphone or webcam, or a smartphone that has VoIP capabilities.  Assuming you have access, you can use one of many popular VoIP services such as Skype, Fring, or Truphone.  If you use a VoIP service to make a call to another person using VoIP, it will probably be absolutely free (not including any fees you may have to pay to access the Internet).  If the person you are calling is not using VoIP on their computer, you can also call them directly on their phone.  This is often cheaper than using a calling card or local SIM card. 

The main advantage of using VoIP to make international calls is that it is very inexpensive (free in certain circumstances).  The downside is that it requires Internet access, and a computer or mobile device that has the necessary VoIP application.  Also, international equivalents of 911 and E911 may not be fully functional with VoIP calling.  Make sure you are aware of these limitations before relying on VoIP as your primary calling method.  Visit the following links to learn more about VoIP services and to look up calling rates to individual countries.

UK +44 (0) 203 318 0742
USA and rest of world +1 (646) 360-1689

As always, check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and provider contact info.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Once I am overseas, what calling options can I choose from?

Posted June 23rd, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

You have arrived overseas, and are ready to make a call.  After verifying your carrier’s policies and charges, you should have a plan for how you will communicate while overseas.

Some phones are capable of using a SIM card that can be purchased overseas (call your provider for details on your specific phone and whether it’s compatible with the system in the country you’re visiting).  This means you will have a local phone number, and not the same phone number you use in the U.S., but you will not have roaming charges. International calls and text messages placed from your destination will be much cheaper, and incoming calls will most likely be free. Keep in mind that it may be more expensive for the calling party because they will be calling or sending text messages to an international number.

If you plan on using your phone heavily, an alternative might be to purchase an inexpensive phone as well as a SIM card with prepaid minutes in the country you are visiting, so you know exactly how much you will be spending. You can also purchase a calling card if you need to make a long distance call to the U.S., as this is often much less expensive than using a hotel room phone. While it is not a good idea to use hotel room phones for a direct long distance call the U.S., you should use them if you want to call between rooms in the hotel.

Use your international calling card from a phone booth and not your mobile phone, as regular per minute charges usually apply if you use your mobile phone. And if you have an option of contacting someone in the country you’re visiting at either a wireline or mobile number, call the wireline. 

Another popular option is using the internet to make phone calls, called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how to use this inexpensive method!

As always, check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and provider contact info.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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Will I be able to use my phone overseas? What preparations do I need to make?

Posted June 22nd, 2010 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

In order to maintain communication with people back home in the most affordable way, you need to be ready ahead of time.  First, make sure you understand the telephone system in the country you’re going to.  Different countries use different types of mobile phone networks, so don’t assume that your phone will work in a foreign country.  And even if your phone does work for voice calling, some of its other functions – such as sending and receiving data or text messages – might not work.  The most important thing is to check with your wireless provider before you leave for your trip.  When in doubt, ask.

For most U.S. customers, the service plan that covers domestic usage does not cover usage while traveling abroad.  And the rates may be much higher when you are abroad, because of the additional fees for “roaming” on a foreign mobile phone network.  Roaming can be complicated, and charges may vary by country and mobile network.  Again, it is best to check with your provider before you depart to find out the service arrangements that best fit your needs, and to find out all the rates and charges that will apply.  Higher rates may apply to all features of your phone, including making or receiving voice calls, receiving or checking voice mail, sending or receiving texts, and uploading to or downloading from the Internet.  Even if you have “unlimited” use of these features, you may still be charged per minute/text/etc.  By knowing these charges ahead of time, you will be able to save money and avoid any surprises when you return home. 

The bottom line: don’t make any assumptions about your phone or calling plan.  By researching your carrier’s policies and charges, you can decide whether you should bring your own phone along or use one of many alternatives once you arrive in your destination country.  Those alternative options will be discussed tomorrow! 

Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and contact info for wireless providers.

Posted in International Bureau Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers
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