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Venezuela's First Connection a Result of "Sheer Luck"

April 18, 2018
Ermanno Pietrosemoli

Ermanno Pietrosemoli is known as a pioneer, both for his efforts to connect Latin American to the Internet and for setting a world record for distance of a Wi-Fi signal.

What many don’t know is that also brought the first data connection to Venezuela in 1996, an early achievement that he credits to “sheer luck.”

While it may have indeed been luck that got the ball rolling, it was his dogged determination,  and a little scheming, that brought the project to fruition.

While visiting the University of Maryland on a sabbatical in 1991, Dr. Glenn Ricart introduced Ermanno to Saul Hahn, from the Organization of American States (OAS) who told him about a program to help Latin American universities get connected to the Internet via satellite. OAS had donated to the Venezuelan Government a satellite gound station (VSAT) for Internet access.

“Once I returned to Venezuela, I tried to find out what happened to the VSAT that had been sent to Venezuela,” Pietrosemoli said.  “I found out that it was still in the original crate in the basement of a government office. It had been sitting there for several years and nobody had ever opened the box.

With the help of Ernesto Lorenz, a friend that worked at a satellite company in Caracas, a training course on connecting to the Internet via satellite was organized at ULA, and  a request to borrow the VSAT for that purpose could not be refused.

Getting the connection was easy. Getting the funding to pay for it was not.

“I started trying to convince a group of people to talk to the Rector of the university to get things going,” he said. “Meanwhile, the president of Intelsat Venezuela called me on the phone. He said, ‘Look, if you are going to hook up the university you need to make a decision now. We need to commit the bandwidth, otherwise you will have to wait until next year.’”

Without any decision yet from the Rector, Pietrosemoli said he sent a fax stating that as head of the telecommunications Lab he requested the Internet satellite connection.

Fortunately, later the Rector (who was the only one authorized for this kind of commitment) signed the formal request.

“So, we had the first connection in our country out of sheer luck,” he said.

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