The Government, through its agencies, will be implementing three major technology initiatives aimed at increasing access to the Internet and electronic educational content for students living in rural and inner-city communities.
Speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (December 15), Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Daryl Vaz, said the Government will be making investments to provide the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) with the capacity to broadcast digitally over the air using digital transmission technology.
“This decision is grounded in the fact that digital broadcast can reach over 85 per cent of households who own a Smart TV set. Smart TV sets already have the ability to receive the digital signal without the addition of external devices,” Mr. Vaz said.
He noted that the digital transmission system will enable the PBCJ to provide multiple channels of educational content on a 24/7 basis.
This is in recognition that many of our students have fallen behind and will need many hours of remedial lessons to catch up.
Mr. Vaz said for those Jamaicans that do not own a Smart TV, all that will be required is an external digital set-top box to allow their existing television sets to receive the digital signals.
“The price of these digital set-top boxes range from between $2,500 and $5,000. The necessary preparatory works are in progress and we expect to implement this project over the next six months,” the Minister informed.
In addition, the Government intends to make further investments to provide the PBCJ with access to high-speed fibre-optic communication backbone to connect with rural cable television networks to facilitate Internet-based information being made accessible to students at home using their computers and tablets.
“Work on this initiative is far advanced, with the National Works Agency (NWA) working closely with the rural cable television operators to coordinate activities regarding the layout of the fibre-optic-cable infrastructure,” Mr. Vaz stated.
So far, 18 out of 34 rural cable TV operators are using the fibre infrastructure to get content from the PBCJ.
However, Mr. Vaz said more needs to be done to connect the remaining rural cable TV operators to enable them to provide valuable educational material to their subscribers, and this is what this second initiative will seek to do.
Meanwhile, the Government is to rapidly expand the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. This is in recognition of the current inability to provide all homes, especially in the rural communities, with access to the Internet, which will take time.
“However, in the interim, we want to ensure that every community has access to the Internet and we can only do this by installing public Wi-Fi hotspots in strategic locations where it is easily accessible by the residents of those communities,” Mr. Vaz stated.
He said the Universal Service Fund, working closely with the NWA and eGov Jamaica Limited, is finalising the list of locations suitable for public Wi-Fi installations.
“I will be relying on my colleague members of parliament to send a list with locations within their constituencies that they believe should have public Wi-Fi hotspots,” Mr. Vaz said.
Since assuming responsibility for the portfolio, the Minister has launched five public Wi-Fi hotspot locations under the Connect Jamaica Programme, in Chapelton and May Pen in Clarendon, Port Antonio in Portland, Ocho Rios in St. Ann and Annotto Bay in St. Mary.
This brings to 13 the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots across Jamaica.