Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Daryl Vaz (sixth left), gives the thumbs up at the launch of free public Wi-Fi in the town of Ocho Rios, St. Ann, on Friday (December 4). He is joined by (from left) Director, Enterprise, Government and IT Solutions at Cable and Wireless Business, Carol Robertson; Councillor for the Ocho Rios Division, Michael Belnavis; Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Fayval Williams; State Minister in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and Member of Parliament for North East St. Ann, Hon. Marsha Smith; Charmaine Dean, Representative of Custos Rotulorum of St. Ann, Norma Walters; and Chief Executive Officer, Universal Service Fund, Daniel Dawes.

Residents in the resort town of Ocho Rios, St. Ann, are excited for the free Wi-Fi hotspot, which was commissioned into service on December 4.

The installation was undertaken by the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET), through the Universal Service Fund (USF).

Following the launch of the service, scores of residents in the busy town centre stopped to connect their phones to the Wi-Fi system.

Ocho Rios resident, Jasmine Moulton, in an interview with JIS news, describes the initiative as extraordinary. She says it will prove useful to students in particular, who now depend on the Internet for learning, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I feel it is an extraordinary move because there are so many who are struggling with affording Wi-Fi. I don’t know how it would work with school, because it is a public area, but it is a good move and it is more so in terms of children,” she says.

Luther Irving, who was visiting the town at the time of the launch, praised Government for the initiative, noting that it is an important tool for the youth.

“Frankly, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for persons who cannot actually afford the cost of the Internet service… to see this happening in Ocho Rios, I look forward to seeing it happening in all the towns across Jamaica. I also want to commend the persons behind this. I was saying to a colleague of mine, the youngsters want to see something new and different, so it is a great thing,” Mr. Irving shares.

Orville Simmonds is also ecstatic about the roll-out of the free Wi-Fi service, which he says will benefit people who are unable to afford data service.

“It is a very good initiative. It is a very good programme, especially for the town of Ocho Rios and for the people, especially in a time like this when persons are finding it difficult to afford data and especially for the kids. I think this initiative will go a far way in helping those persons,” he tells JIS News.

During the commissioning ceremony, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the USF, Daniel Dawes, said the installation of the Wi-Fi hotspot stands to improve the lives of residents.

“It is good that the Universal Service Fund is here providing for the people of Ocho Rios a service that is well needed, and we do hope that Ocho Rios will benefit in a meaningful way from this expenditure,” Mr. Dawes says.

For his part, Councillor for the Ocho Rios Division, Michael Belnavis, says the facility will provide an avenue for residents to surf the net “on a productive basis” and stay ahead “in this new rapidly changing technological world that we live in”.

“What it means, particularly in this pandemic, is that those who have issues logging on to the Internet can come to the square of Ocho Rios and connect to the Internet, do your homework, do work, send letters off, talk to your family abroad… absolutely free,” Councillor Belnavis says.

Charmaine Dean, who addressed the ceremony on behalf of Custos of St. Ann, Hon. Norma Walters, expressed gratitude to the USF for choosing Ocho Rios as the 11th location to provide the free Wi-Fi scheme.

She implored residents to take full advantage of the opportunity that comes with the free secured Internet access.

“It is a very good time for Ocho Rios and it is a very good time for us to connect. Everybody knows that with COVID-19, things are a little bit more challenging for everyone and we know that persons are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Having free Wi-Fi and having access to the Internet is something that some of us take for granted but some of us know how valuable it is,” she points out.

“It is so critical to have Wi-Fi and right in the centre of Ocho Rios. We certainly thank the Universal Service Fund and the Ministry [of Science, Energy and Technology]. We are certainly happy and I know that Ocho Rios people will take full advantage and use it every time,” Ms. Dean adds.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are already in operation at Emancipation Park, Mandela Park, St. William Grant Park, Olympic Way and Devon House in Kingston and St. Andrew; Cecil Charlton Park in Mandeville; May Pen, Clarendon; Junction, St. Elizabeth; Montego Bay, St. James and Annotto Bay, St. Mary.

The hotspots come at a cost of $20 million each, with $5 million for set-up and installation and $15 million for service cost for three years.

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