Fast Company

Google's Plan To Get Haiti Online

Haiti has lost a lot in the ten months since it was hit by a massive earthquake. One thing it didn't lose: a strong Internet infrastructure. The country never had one to begin with, as evidenced by the graph of Internet bandwidth below. Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, hopes to change that. The organization just unveiled a series of recommendations to make broadband access cheap and easy for the Haitian community.

Google.org offers four main ideas for Haiti: creating an entity in charge of growing the country's Internet infrastructure (likely using public funds); "going mobile" by opening up WiMax or the TV spectrum for wireless providers (just as the FCC recently approved the so-called white space spectrum of radio frequencies for wireless use in the U.S.); building stronger domestic fiber networks to connect to the Dominican Republic; and linking undersea cables to the neighboring country.

It's not just about giving Haitians easy access to Facebook. A strong Internet infrastructure could potentially "create critical national and international linkages that would help foster and drive the country’s economic development," says Google. That includes offering long-distance educational programs to hard-to-reach Haitian areas, expanding e-medicine and medical training, increasing access to credit for small businesses and farmers, decentralizing development outside of Port-Au-Prince (i.e. call centers and factories), and attracting foreign investment by creating a "business process outsourcing and call center industry in the Eastern Standard Time zone."

All of these ideas cost money, and Haiti has more pressing problems to deal with right now (cholera outbreak, anyone?). But they are at least a starting point for a country that has to build an Internet infrastructure from the ground up -- and desperately needs to alter the way it does business.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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