Home > February 2010 Haiti Trip > Internet squatting in Haiti

Internet squatting in Haiti

I had the opportunity over the weekend to spend some time in southeast Florida with a couple of Lazarus Project board members and volunteers. It was great to put faces with names, and to meet others who have a personal, vested interest in Haiti and the Village of Hope.

One gentleman recalled my name as “one of the guys that brought the Internet down at Hope House,” the project’s head office in Haiti. And then it occurred to me that I never told anyone the rest of the story.

Hope House has Hughes satellite service for Internet access. That was about all that was known when we arrived on February 19th. The office had been turned upside down by the earthquake and we were never able to find any records or detailed account information. In fact, it took some deep digging and guesswork to figure out what name the account was in.

This became more important as service degraded day after day. We eventually learned that terms on the account allowed 375 MB of download traffic per 24 hour period, after which, the account would go into a “low priority” state. (Hughes calls this “fair use” state, I call it “give me a break.”) We acknowledged that some video conferencing trials with Skype took a bite out of the daily limit. (But that was limited to 30 minutes on the day of our arrival.) Add to that usage by 11 guys — many using their handy dandy wi-fi devices — plus the Hope House director’s business use.

Suddenly, we paid very close attention to our usage.

But there was one other curveball our presence brought: we left the wireless router on most of the time. Previously there was very limited demand for Internet access. Teams came to immerse themselves in pre-earthquake Haiti. For personal reflection, maybe they used a journal. Sometimes people posted updates to their Facebook pages. And then the Internet got “shut off.”

In post earthquake Haiti, we were compelled to tell the story in real time. Several maintained blogs, tweeted, and kept up with email and Facebook. Natural disasters and social media go hand in hand. (Don’t forget, startup YouTube first attracted widespread usage as a better way for people to share videos of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.)

Well, we left the network up one day while we were away more than six hours. It was when we got home that night that we learned virtually no place on earth is immune from Internet squatters.

It turns out our service was bumped down to “low priority” even though we were not even around to use it. Prior to our arrival, it had not occurred to anyone to enable a wireless key. We were certainly not in an urban area. The closest neighbors were sleeping under tarps. Walls and buildings were down everywhere. And electricity was off more than it was on.

Hughes was able to provide hour-by-hour usage statistics. And during a two-hour period while we were away, we pinpointed the entire daily download limit being met and exceeded. Internet squatters.

I installed an upgraded router, brought it up to date and locked it down.

And now you know the rest of the story.

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  1. Bill Cole
    March 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Paul put in a great deal of time sniffing out the problems with Hughes and the usage issues. We had a great time blaming Tom Hafer’s blog and the space it took to load the home page pictures for our problems. Being IT challenged, I was glad that we had Paul along to lend him much needed expertise.

  2. Jamie
    March 21, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Huge thanks to you and your team for the incredible job of clean up and organization. As part of the next team in we were able to hit the ground running and move the ball a few yards forward. Joyful Spirit, Naperville

    • Paul Harris
      March 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Hi Jamie, thanks for the kind words. To quote Debbie, our actions are like a pebble thrown into a pond. You never know where the ripples will go. But you know that small actions can make a big difference. – Paul

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