The Universal Service Fund (USF) in on track to establish 189 additional community wi-fi hotpots island-wide by the end of the 2021/22 fiscal year on March 31, 2022, to facilitate increased public internet access.
These will be in addition to 13 high-trafficked locations where the service has been established, among the latest being Hope Bay in Portland, which was launched on December 16.
This was disclosed by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Daryl Vaz, who noted that three hotspots will be established in each of the 63 constituencies.
Mr. Vaz, who has portfolio responsibility for the USF, was speaking during a ceremony on December 17 for the USF’s handover of a cheque for $20 million to the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) to procure state-of-the-art equipment to establish a dedicated 24-hour educational television channel.
This will target the digital transmission of content, largely tailored for early childhood, primary, and secondary students.
Mr. Vaz said the Ministry is using information and communication technology (ICT) to digitise government service delivery, make internet connectivity more accessible “and advance Jamaica’s ambition to become a technologically-enabled society.”
He pointed out that several initiatives are being undertaken in keeping with this thrust, including expansion of the national fibre optic and microwave infrastructure to connect schools and public sector entities, “in furtherance of our broader goal of universal access by 2025.”
The Minister noted that this is a “very ambitious target,” but “well needed if we are to [overcome] the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Mr. Vaz advised that all parish courts and municipal corporations are connected to microwave infrastructure, “and, so far, we have connected over 100 government entities, including schools, using the GovNet communication backbone.”
“We, of course, continue to work with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in relation to procurement for the connectivity to the schools,” the Minister added.
He further informed that more accessible spectrum services are being facilitated through the establishment of a spectrum e-licensing system.
“This system will allow for better reporting, faster processing times, improved access to information, and online payments,” the Minister pointed out.
Noting that technology is essential to creating a bold and brighter future for all Jamaicans, Mr. Vaz said the Ministry is committed to building out the infrastructure and creating the policy, legislative and regulatory framework to make this happen.
“When the work is complete, all Jamaicans will have the opportunity to access the internet to work, learn, earn and do business, and develop to their fullest potential,” he said.
Mr. Vaz thanked the USF for its work “to connect Jamaica… one community, entity, and person at a time.”
USF Chairman, Justin Morin, who also spoke, highlighted several other initiatives being undertaken by the entity, including the provision of $22.7 million under the ICT Tertiary Research Grant Programme to the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the ‘Tablets in Schools’ Initiative, executed by e-Learning Jamaica Limited, and financed annually by the USF at a cost of $700 million.
Additionally, Mr. Morin said the USF recently provided ICT devices to the top performing boy and girl in the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) from each parish and has established a network of 390 computer labs in underserved and unserved communities island-wide.
He noted that the partnership with the PBCJ “is [another] of the ways that the USF is seeking to empower Jamaicans and improve the country’s infrastructure through technology.”
“Increasing the accessibility, affordability, and availability of information [and] communication technology is the cornerstone of all our projects. These projects and efforts exemplify the significant involvement and investment made by the USF in the country’s ICT infrastructure,” he said, while extending thanks to the management of the entity and Ministry.