ITU offering assistance to local telecommunication providers

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE – As mobile and cable network companies – Aliv, Bahamas Telecommunication Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas Ltd., continue to focus on system repairs to ensure a credible database for their customers, following Hurricane Dorian in early September, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sen. J. Kwasi Thompson (centre) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) representatives met with local providers to hear their concerns and ideas. (PHOTO: JENNEVA RUSSELL)

As mobile and cable network companies – Aliv, Bahamas Telecommunication Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas Ltd., continue to focus on system repairs to ensure a credible database for their customers, following Hurricane Dorian in early September, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sen. J. Kwasi Thompson and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) representatives met with local providers to hear their concerns and ideas.

ITU officials also got the opportunity to tour Grand Bahama and Abaco to assess the damage to cables and see how best businesses and residents can be provided with more efficient systems. 

During the meeting in Churchill’s, Grand Lucayan Resort Thursday (October 3), Sen. Thompson was adamant that a solution for effective communication be found and must include the use of the latest technology, particularly after the disaster in the wake of Dorian, in terms of intercommunication.

“Today, we wish to welcome the Director for the ITU, who is the ICT technology system in the United Nations (UN) and we are very pleased that she has been able to travel here, along with her colleagues.

“The purpose of the tour is to see the devastation, but from the point of view of ICT, from the point of view of communications in terms of our Internet service, our mobile service and telecommunication service; how that withstood the storm, how it was maintained during the storm and the rebuilding of those systems.

“They are also going to see how they are able to provide some technical assistance to us and training, and we are having those discussions right now,” said Sen. Thompson.

“We are pleased also that today, we have had meetings with the ITU and the telecommunications companies as well as Cable Bahamas, because we want to discuss with them not only how they are able to assist with small businesses, but residents as well. 

“We know that BTC, as well as Aliv are providing some packages in the immediate wake of the storm, but we want to have some further discussions with them on how we can encourage them to provide some long-term assistance packages,” he added.

Sen. Thompson noted that one of the major needs for small businesses is Internet service. “And we know, there has obviously been challenges with respect to some areas with mobile and some areas with fixed lines, so we want to do as best as we can to assist those small businesses with being able to provide them with affordable Internet and mobile services. 

“We also want to have discussions with our small businesses with respect to providing the latest technology, because while those small businesses are rebuilding, it is better that they are able to rebuild with the latest technology. 

“We know that in the Freeport area for example, businesses were severely flooded and a lot of their information is on paper. So, while they are preparing to rebuild, one of the things that we want them to consider and to add to that – we may be able to provide some advice and technical assistance – but the thing is how do you rebuild to provide digital data. 

“Instead of you having to go through moving all of your paper and files, all of that can be digital and in cloud.”

Sen. Thompson noted that this experience creates a new beginning and is the perfect opportunity to rebuild with safer and innovative ideas. 

“We want businesses to use this as an opportunity, as they rebuild, to be able to use the latest technology. 

“One of the things that was not just brought to our attention but we were reminded about, was how important communication is during a disaster. That is one of the things that we want to look at very closely, in terms of our review process. 

“We have to be focused on the communication aspect of disaster preparedness, because we really would be at a huge disadvantage if everything else in our disaster preparedness works and our communication does not. 

“Communication is what brings everything together,” Sen. Thompson stated. 

ITU Telecommunications Development Bureau Director, Doreen Bogdan-Martin said that her team is willing to assist in the needed areas and is focused on the protection of the network should another storm pass. 

“We are here to get an assessment and an understanding of the situation. We visited Abaco this morning, the devastation was shocking and much worse than you can imagine. Of course, the whole international community watched from afar, but seeing the extent of the devastation was shocking for lack of a better word,” Bogdan-Martin added. 

“We are here to talk to all parties and see what role we can play in the recovery. We did our small share and contributed some satellite terminals, working together with the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster. So, we tried to help make sure that the government could get back up, in terms of connectivity, as soon as possible and now we are here to discuss the recovery part and also to discuss preparedness in the event that something like this, God forbid, could ever happen again. 

“So, we are discussing with all parties, with the operators, with the government to see how we can best contribute,” said Bogdan-Martin.

Questioned about concerns shared by Cable Bahamas, BTC and Aliv, Bogdan-Martin said, the companies were vigilant despite power outages and Internet challenges.

“From our side, I would say it is quite impressive how both operators (Aliv and BTC) were able to bring back service. I mean, I’ve realized there are some areas where there are still challenges, but they did come together and get service back up as quickly as possible. 

“We understand that there are still power challenges and that will certainly be addressed in the coming days. But, we also think it is important that for the future, we help to make sure that there is a national telecommunications plan in place and that common alert and protocol is known by the whole population and can be quickly put into action should a disaster strike again,” she added.

“I really want to express our full support to all of the people of The Bahamas. We stand with you and of course, to express condolences to all of those that lost their loved ones in this terrible tragedy,” concluded the ITU Director.

Director of Northern Bahamas at Rev (Cable Bahamas) Dominic Petty, who is responsible for Bimini, Abaco and Grand Bahama shared details on the company’s status, thus far. 

“Grand Bahama and Abaco were obviously two of the islands that were most impacted from Hurricane Dorian. Abaco particularly, as it relates to Central Abaco, was most devastating to our plants, in addition to East Grand Bahama. That part of the island was severely damaged, where our plants were badly affected, as well as the flooding that also impacted Freeport proper. 

“Out west, there was not much damage, even though we had to do some minor repairs,” Petty disclosed. 

“But coming out of the hurricane, from the day when all clear was given on September 4, we were able to maintain at least 15 percent of our network that was online in the immediate aftermath. That was a result of some of the planning and work that we did prior to the storm, where we added generators to a lot of our nodes. Our nodes, specifically, is the equipment in the area that is responsible for supplying cables to customers’ homes.”

Petty noted that the company strategically placed their nodes in critical locations such as the highly commercial areas – the hospital, hotels, etc. 

“However, as a result of the flooding, a lot of the generators got damaged, but we were still able to maintain a few of them,” he added.

“We did not start from ground zero, but like I said 15 percent and from there we were able to progress. Two weeks from September 4, we were able to get 50 percent of the network up and to date, we were able to get up 75 percent of our network. So, customers are already starting to see our network coming up and even when power was restored to many homes, customers were also able to see their cable come up right away. 

“We still have some ways to go and at this point it is a bit more meticulous, because instead of turning up large areas one time, we are having to turn up individual customers at a time; having to visit each and every home where the flooding happened or lines were down,” Petty revealed. 

BTC Vice President of Operations in Grand Bahama Trevor Turnquest, said that the company is heading towards a speedy recovery. 

“Right now, in BTC, our major efforts were focused on getting the mobile services restored. We presently have 100 percent coverage between West End and Lucaya Bridge (Casuarina Bridge) and in the East of Grand Bahama, we plan to have restoration of mobile services early next week.

“For fixed lines, we are at 50 percent in the Freeport area where we saw a lot of devastation from water, compromising our infrastructure there and our tentacle service. In the Lucaya area, we are about 75 percent repaired in the infrastructure and getting that in order.

“We have already swept through West End into Eight Mile Rock, restoring services there. We look to have a few more weeks with crews that we have brought on island to assist us. We brought in eight teams from RTS that are assisting us with the reconstruction of downed lines and cables. Ericsson, of course, is here, and we have 11 crew-members assisting us with mobile restoration,” he explained.

“As you know, a lot of our sites were compromised with water on the northern shore and we are presently replacing those and getting those back in service.”

Questioned regarding criticism of BTC mobile service reliability during and after the storm, Turnquest said, he is confident the Bahamian people will stand by originality. 

“Due to the water that compromised us, it took us out of service for a short period and, I think, during the height of the storm persons felt as though they could not make calls.

“I am not concerned that persons will move, they will come to what they know and BTC is here to rebuild – better, bigger and stronger,” he stated.

Chief Aliv Officer Damian Blackburn, thanked Grand Bahamians for their patience while the company was finishing the restoration of its network, following Hurricane Dorian.

“You probably were unaware, but right now we have 99 percent of coverage in Grand Bahama all the way out to the East End. 

“We were very lucky that the network worked throughout the storm here in Freeport. We got it open in West End very quickly after the storm passed and we have been trying to help as much as we can, because we know a lot of people need service. 

“You would see the vans out and about consistently and we are here to help at this time,” Blackburn noted.

He added that the company has brought in additional staff, as the recovery process continues.

“We have had to bring in some staff, because it has just been very hard for our staff who were affected by the storm; however, it is returning to normal now. 

“Our heart is actually to work with the Grand Bahama team and to get everything back to normal,” said Blackburn.

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