KINGSTON — A total of 52 community access points (CAPs), which enable persons to access the Internet, have been established across the island at a cost of $152.4 million, since the initiative began in 2007, Managing Director of the Universal Access Fund (UAF), Hugh Cross, has informed.
Additionally, he tells JIS News that work is currently in progress for the establishment of an additional 29 CAPs, with applications for a further 123 now being processed.
The CAPs are among several projects which the UAF finances from a levy on international calls to landline and cellular telephones, terminated in Jamaica. The levy is collected and remitted to the UAF by the island’s four major call terminating carriers – Digicel, LIME, Claro, and Columbus Communications (Flow).
An agency of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UAF has responsibility for collecting the levy from the terminating carriers, which make monthly remittances to the entity. The revenue generated is used to finance projects designed to provide access to the Internet. The national e-learning project, which is designed to enhance the educational process, through the increased use of information and communication technologies, is also funded by the UAF.
Mr. Cross tells JIS News that, to date, Kingston and St. Andrew account for the highest number of CAPs installed, with 11 and 10 respectively, followed by St. Catherine with six; St. Elizabeth, Clarendon, and Portland – three each; St. Ann, Westmoreland, and St. Thomas – two each; and St. Mary, Hanover, St. James and Manchester – one each.
The Managing Director explains that the CAPs are primarily internet cafes, which provide members of the communities in which the facilities have been established, with access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).
He points out that the UAF works in partnership with government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and faith-based organisations, specifically the church, to identify communities that meet the UAF’s criteria for funding to establish CAPs.
The main criteria, Mr. Cross outlines, include: the availability of a secure building to house the equipment that will be provided; and leadership capacity to manage the operations and ensure the project’s sustainability, “because we want these facilities to be available to residents…for the long term”.
He points to several “exciting” CAPs, which the UAF has financed, notable among which he says are those established at the Church on the Rock, and the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre in St. Andrew; and Longville Park and Mineral Heights in Clarendon, which he says have been doing a “fantastic job” within the communities.
“These community facilities are totally non-discriminatory and cater to all age groups, from the very young to the very old. It is particularly gratifying to see the very old community residents developing computer skills and making excellent use of the facilities,” Mr. Cross tells JIS News.
He is also upbeat about a facility established in the Maroon village of Accompong, St. Elizabeth.
“Given the terrain… and no Internet access previously, it was particularly gratifying to have completed that one (for the people). The community leadership secured a special Internet link through its own initiative. The facility now provides the community with Internet access and the benefit of accessing ICT training, information, communication, payment of bills (electronically), research for school-based assessments, which are particularly important,” he says.
Mr. Cross also points to “great things” which have been happening at Boys’ Town in South St. Andrew, since a CAP was opened there. He notes that the feedback which the UAF has been receiving suggests that demand is outstripping supply, and that “members of the communities, sometimes, complain that their greatest concern is that they cannot get enough time on the computers”.
Another notable project, the Managing Director highlights, is one undertaken at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus in Port Antonio, Portland, where the ICT facilities were recently upgraded.
“Education is very important for sustainable economic development, but it is also fairly expensive for students to travel far distances to attend universities or to access online tertiary programmes, which are being provided by an increasing number of universities, including the UWI. So, you can immediately appreciate the tremendous benefit of someone in his or her community being able to easily access an online course, without incurring the expenses of having to travel long distances and securing suitable accommodation,” he reasons.
He adds that the UAF has approved projects to upgrade two additional UWI Open Campuses, and is processing applications for the other seven.
Mr. Cross says apart from financing the CAPs, the UAF has also provided funding to several agencies for upgrading of their facilities. These include the Jamaica Library Service (JLS), which received over $31 million to upgrade the ICT facilities at their parish and branch libraries.
An important aspect of this project is the provision of specialised software at select libraries to facilitate easy Internet access for the visually impaired community.
Discussions are underway to fund additional ICT upgrades for the JLS, Mr. Cross informs, noting that money was also allocated to the Postal Corporation of Jamaica to finance an internet pilot project in five post offices – Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth; Mandeville and Christiana, Manchester; May Pen, Clarendon; and Port Antonio, Portland.
“The expectation is that we will continue to expand that project so that most post offices will be able to provide internet services to the public,” he adds.
Additionally, the UAF provided funding in the amount of $329,000 to upgrade the Information Commons at the National Library Service at East Street, Kingston, to facilitate internet access for their clients.
In terms of the way forward, Mr. Cross says the UAF is anticipating an acceleration of the CAP project, as well as implementation of other strategies, so that in short order, the mandate of the UAF to ensure that “every Jamaican resident will have easy and reliable access to the information super highway”, will be realised.
“We really are excited about the prospect of every resident having Internet access, no matter where in Jamaica they reside or visit,” Mr. Cross tells JIS News.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter