JIS News

KINGSTON — Preliminary work has commenced on the implementation of a major islandwide broadband network project, at a cost of just over $500 million, over a five-year period.

Managing Director of the Universal Access Fund Company Limited (UAF), Hugh Cross tells JIS News that the project’s infrastructure, which is slated to be constructed over an 18-month period, was approved by Cabinet in March.

He explains that the undertaking will include access to a central server facility, which will host a wide range of educational material. He adds that persons will be able to access these educational materials from local area networks (LAN), which have been established in public high schools throughout the country. 

The initiative will also provide internet access to the connected schools, post offices and libraries, and will facilitate interconnectivity among the institutions.

The project is being funded through an allocation from the levy on incoming international telephone calls terminating in Jamaica, to both landline and cellular telephones. The island’s four main terminating carriers, Digicel, LIME, Claro, and Columbus Communication (Flow), collect the levy on behalf of the UAF.

Mr. Cross tells JIS News that more than $7.8 billion has been collected, since the UAF commenced operations in 2005.

An agency of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UAF has responsibility for collecting the levy from the call terminating carriers, which are required to make monthly remittances to the entity. The revenue generated is used to discharge the government’s universal service obligation by financing the implementation of projects to increase access to internet services islandwide.

The national e-learning project, which is designed to enhance the educational process in high schools, through greater use of  Information Communication Technologies (ICT), is the largest project funded by the UAF, thus far.

Mr. Cross tells JIS News that contracts amounting to $543 million have been awarded to LIME and Flow to implement, manage, maintain and monitor the broadband facility over an initial five-year period.  He also informs that field work to assess the engineering requirements to establish the required ports at each institution, is in progress, and institutions will be connected to the network over the 18-month construction period.

“The service will provide high speed access to selected schools, post offices and libraries. Students at the connected schools will be able to access the data bank hosted on the servers, and review pre-recorded lectures and take on-line examinations, at their leisure. It (network platform) will also extend broadband services into some communities that do not now have this level of access, so that they can be served,” he explains.

“This network is designed to be highly reliable, and if there is any degradation or failure (in the system), it will be immediately identified and rectified by the telecommunication firms,” he assures, adding that the objective is to achieve a 99.9 per cent availability of the service.

Approximately 283 terminating ports will be established islandwide in the initial phase, incorporating schools, libraries and post offices. Mr. Cross says 165 will be situated in schools; 78 in post offices; and 40 in libraries, while pointing out those additional schools will be connected during the initial 18-month construction phase.

He cites the collaboration between the UAF and the relevant stakeholder organisations which are facilitating the project’s execution.

“We have worked very closely with the leadership of the Jamaica Library Service, and the Postal Corporation of Jamaica, and will continue to do so throughout the installation and operational phases of the project. We have worked with the schools’ administrations through the e-Learning Jamaica Company, and this relationship will be strengthened throughout the construction and operational phases,” Mr. Cross says.

While the UAF partners with a number of governmental and non-governmental organisations to carry out activities, consistent with its mandate, he says its associate company, the e-Learning Jamaica Company, has responsibility for executing the National e-Learning Project.

This project includes, among other things, a technology infrastructure component, which entails interventions into high schools, special education institutions, and teacher training colleges, which are outfitted with the requisite equipment, technological infrastructure and training, to facilitate establishment of a modern ICT framework.

“Their intervention is to ensure that modern tools  are made available to enhance  the teaching and learning experiences which, ultimately, will improve results, enabling us to have a better educated population,” the Managing Director points out, adding that to date, the UAF has allocated over $2.4 billion to the e-Learning Jamaica Company to undertake the project.

Other elements of the project include: an instructional materials component for teachers and students in a range of subject areas; and a teacher training component, which sees the HEART Trust/National Training Agency (NTA) providing training and certification in the use of ICT in education. To date, over 11,000 teachers and lecturers have been certified.

Other provisions include: a remedial and continuous assessment component; school implementation support; project evaluation; implementation management; project control, and sustainability components.

A status report from the e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited regarding the technology infrastructure component, shows that as at December 2010, some 166 public high schools, 16 independent, eight teacher’s colleges, five community colleges, and six special schools (institutions for students with learning and physical disabilities) received audiovisual equipment; and approximately 162 public high schools and eight teacher’s colleges had computers and networks installed.

Also achieved were an interim repository that was established on the e-Learning Jamaica website; technical specifications for Central Repository for Educational Material (CREM) finalised for hosting by the Ministry of Education; equipment delivered; and  building and electrical infrastructure being finalised by the Ministry.

The company is also awaiting approval and funding for the development and implementation of a focused enrichment intervention for 30 low-performing schools, and implementation of Phase II of the e-learning project in primary and all-age schools.