Tue | Apr 20, 2021

New clamour for third telecoms player - Vaz promises Internet for all by 2025

Published:Wednesday | December 16, 2020 | 12:31 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Camera Roberts of the Universal Service Fund assists Kenroy Johnson, a Clarendon resident, in connecting to free public Wi-Fi in Chapelton on December 10. Technology Minister Daryl Vaz pledged to deliver universal Internet service across Jamaica by 2025.
Camera Roberts of the Universal Service Fund assists Kenroy Johnson, a Clarendon resident, in connecting to free public Wi-Fi in Chapelton on December 10. Technology Minister Daryl Vaz pledged to deliver universal Internet service across Jamaica by 2025.

Former Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell is urging the Government to consider applications for another fibre-optic licence to generate greater competition, which, he insists, is needed to improve service standards and to drive down costs.

He also called on the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology to revisit stipulations in the 2015 licence agreement granting the country’s two major telecommunications firms the right to build out their 4G LTE networks.

Paulwell reminded that in 2015 licences were granted to both Flow and Digicel – the country’s two major players – to facilitate the use of 4G LTE service. Third-party telecoms forays have sputtered soon after inception.

He said he has not seen proof that either telecoms has carried through on the agreement for 4G LTE penetration.

Paulwell said the licences of the two telecoms can be revoked if they do not provide upward of 95 per cent of the country with the technology within five years.

His insistence was spurred by statements from Technology Minister Daryl Vaz, who spoke of the urgent need for the expansion of the national broadband coverage.

“I believe that the Jamaican market can accommodate a third player,” Paulwell said.

The estimated cost of implementation of a National Broadband Network is projected to be about US$237 million – with funding options being explored, Vaz told Parliament on Tuesday, adding that the country can “ill-afford to delay or abandon this strategy”.

CRITICAL IMPERATIVE

In his statement, Vaz described Jamaica’s digital transformation as the “single most critical imperative” facing the country.

“This Government will make access to the Internet a public good. The aim is to have every household, every community connected by 2025,” the minister disclosed.

The National Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy positions ICT infrastructure as a strategic resource, the efficient deployment of which, according to the minister, is important for the provision of public and private services and access to worldwide markets.

“This, therefore, requires the provision of high-capacity networks,” he said.

DISTRIBUTION TROUBLING

Current data offered by Vaz show that fixed broadband penetration stands at 11.65 per cent islandwide and mobile penetration at 59.76 per cent.

Vaz told Parliament that the distribution is even more troubling, with penetration highly skewed to urban centres, while the vast majority of the rural population remains “unserved and underserved”.

He said that in furtherance of the ICT policy, he was directed by the prime minister to establish a national broadband network to scale up e-government infrastructure, strengthen the country’s readiness to operate in the virtual space, and to hasten the transformation to a new Jamaica built on the foundation of a digital society.

Bridging the broadband penetration gap is expected to generate more than 95,000 direct jobs and will bring Jamaica in line with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

One widely cited study by the World Bank found that the average increase in gross domestic product growth in developing countries was 1.38 per cent for each 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration and 2.6 per cent increase in productivity.

The results have established an initial benchmark for broadband-related economic impact studies, as well as a strong incentive for governments to invest in broadband growth.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com