Chile communications still working for many

The country's transportation minister asked Chileans to limit their telephone use

By Suzanne Choney
|  Saturday, Feb 27, 2010  |  Updated 7:54 PM CDT
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 Chile Communications Still Working for Many

AP

An 8.8-magnitude quake hit Chile early Saturday morning.

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Communications systems in Chile, a much more technologically advanced country than Haiti, are strained but still functioning in the wake of the earthquake. However, the country's transportation minister, René Cortázar asked that Chileans limit their use of telephones.

"There's a problem with communication quality and overload, for which we only ask people to use the phone if it's completely necessary," Cortázar is quoted as saying in Argentina's Buenos Aires Herald newspaper. "We only ask people to use the phone if it's completely necessary."

Volunteers from the nonprofit group, Télécoms Sans Frontières (Telecommunications Without Borders), which also helped in Haiti after the Jan. 12 quake there, are on their way to Chile, Paul  Paul Margie, U.S. representative for the nonprofit group told msnbc.com.

"Our reports are that communications are badly damaged in some areas, so we are sending an emergency telecom team" there, Margie said.

An American Red Cross volunteer, based in Virginia and using Twitter to communicate, urged those in the United States trying to reached family and friends in Chile, to do so by text messages rather than voice calls. Text messaging is less of a strain on phone networks than voice calls.

"In general, during emergency situations, text messages will often go through quicker than voice calls because they require less network resources," said AT&T spokesman Steven Schwadron.

"During an emergency, more people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to 'fast busy' signals on wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again."

Chile's communications infrastructure is vastly different than Haiti's, which suffered a near-total collapse as a result of the Jan. 12 earthquake there.

Chile is "the most mature telecom market in Latin America, and the region’s pioneer when it comes to new technologies," according to global telecommunications research firm BuddeComm.

Almost 53 percent of Chile's population are Internet users, and about 10 percent of them rely on high-speed, or broadband, connections to get to the Web.

"The country is the regional leader in terms of Internet and broadband penetration," BuddeComm says.

And, as elsewhere in the region, "cell phones are far more popular than fixed lines in Chile," the firm says, with 92 percent of Chileans having mobile phones, compared to 21 percent with landline phone service.

The country was the first in Latin America with services such as mobile WiMax — considered to be a "4G," or fourth-generation wireless technology — as well as Internet Protocol TV which is used for time-shifted programming or video on demand.

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