Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Minister, Hon. Phillip Paulwell, says the Universal Access Fund (UAF) Company Limited is to assume direct responsibility for managing revenue collected from international calls terminating in Jamaica.
Speaking at the launch of the northern segment of the broadband network project at the Oracabessa High School in St. Mary on Friday (May 11), Mr. Paulwell, informed that the new arrangement is among the provisions under the amended Telecommunications Act, which was recently passed in the Houses of Parliament.
“The law will allow the (UAF) board, now, to receive the money. So, no longer will the money go straight to the Ministry of Finance (and Planning and) into the Consolidated Fund; it is going directly to the board. I’m meeting (this) week with the UAF board to chart for them a larger vision than they (previously) got,” the Minister said.
The money generated from incoming calls is used primarily to fund the E-Learning Project, which entails implementation of an information and communication technology (ICT) platform in secondary schools.
Minister Paulwell announced plans for the expansion of the project to include the provisions of loans to institutions engaged in facilitating ICT access; and widening the categories of beneficiaries to include the disabled, elderly, as well as pupils and students in basic and primary schools.
“We started with secondary schools, and every secondary school will have their computer facilities, with broadband connectivity. (However) we want to see how we can increase the population of computers in these (additional) schools,” he stated.
The Technology Minister said that teachers will also have access to computers and the supporting technologies, noting that they “have to be very and totally familiar with the tools; and it can’t be just when you are at school. So we are expanding the project to allow our teachers to have their laptops at home, as well”.
AF Managing Director, Hugh Cross, informed that implementation of the island wide broadband network is to be executed over the next five years, at a cost of $543 million by communications firms, Flow/Columbus Business Solutions, and LIME.
The project includes providing access to a central server facility, which will host a wide range of educational materials, accessible to users through local area networks (LAN) that have been established in public high schools throughout the country. The initiative will also provide Internet access to connected schools, post offices, and libraries, and will facilitate interconnectivity among the institutions.
Mr. Cross said the service will, initially, be rolled out in 278 institutions, comprising 162 schools, 38 public libraries, and 78 post offices.
He informed that Flow, which was awarded a $234.3 million contract, and has responsibility for the island’s northern segment, commenced “aggressive construction” activities, culminating in last Friday’s launch.
LIME will undertake similar work along the island’s southern corridor, at a cost of just over $309 million.
Mr. Cross informed that to date construction, installation and user acceptance testing have been completed at 46 institutions, comprising 14 schools, 13 libraries, and
19 post offices, which are now enjoying high speed data and internet services, and plans are underway to extend connectivity to an additional 134 institutions, comprising 52 schools and 82 libraries.
Minister Paulwell said the partnership with the telecommunications companies on the project “is one that will enable Jamaica to be part of the knowledge-based world”.
By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter