Friday 28 July, 2017

Minister ties ICT achievements to huge spending

Energy, Science and Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley announced Tuesday the rollout of additional access points for free public Wi-Fi, as he highlighted other achievements in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) field.

The minister announced the developments — which include free Wi-Fi in public spaces and broadband connections in educational institutions — during his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament.  

As it relates to the USFConnectJa (Universal Service Fund ConnectJa) public Wi-Fi programme, Wheatley announced that four other arears will enjoy free Wi-Fi access. He listed these areas as the St William Grant Park (Parade), in downtown Kingston; Olympic Way, in St Andrew; Junction, St Elizabeth; and Mandeville, Manchester.

The USFConnectJa programme was launched last year with free public Wi-Fi networks were installed at Devon House and Mandela Park (HWT) at cost of over JA$4,000,000.

The minister disclosed that the coming months will see the continued rollout of public Wi-Fi both in urban and rural areas.

The project is designed to provide greater and easier access to broadband internet service for Jamaican across the island.

“This initiative is expected to fuel the government’s plans of creating a knowledge-based society by removing any barrier that currently exists for citizens who may be unable to afford connectivity,” Wheatley said Tuesday.

Wheatley said the last financial year saw the completion of 47 broadband connections — 44 at Jamaica Constabulary Force sites and three at educational institutions — at a cost of JA$52,188,232.87.

This brings the total number of completed broadband connections as at March 31, 2017 to 430.

The distribution is as follows: 212 at educational institutions, 41 library sites, 68 post office sites, 60 Ministry of Health sites and 49 JCF sites 49.

The minister said 12 special projects were completed for the fiscal year 2016/2017. He disclosed that millions were spent to help upgrade and improve the ICT infrastructure of the following service entities: Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI), College of Agriculture Science and Education (CASE), MICO University, University of Technology (UTECH),

Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the disabled community.

Wheatley said that with fund support of JA$310,000,000, the Caribbean Maritime Institute is now able to implement the necessary physical and technological changes to achieve university status.

As it relates to CASE, the minister said that the Universal Service Fund has approved a total of J$87,000,000 to provide funding support for the upgrade and expansion of the ICT infrastructure across the entire campus. He announced the commencement date of the project as the start of financial year 2017/2018, or April 1.

He said the Mico University “well advanced” in its plans to become the main hub for ICT teacher training in the Caribbean. He said this is made possible by funding from the USF of US$358,150 to establish 12 smart class rooms throughout the campus and for the installation of campus-wide Wi-Fi networks.

The USF contributed JA$20,000,000 for the upgrading of the Wi-Fi network infrastructure throughout the campus of the UTECH.

The USF granted US$176,900 to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission to improve its ICT infrastructure and to purchase the necessary hardware and software to digitize its archival collection, the minister said. He said this funding will assist in promoting Jamaican culture and make it readily available online and to showcase live events to remote audiences.

Wheatley said the USF has assisted in the upgrading of the Police National Computer Centre, which includes purchasing of 1,000 Tablets and related network systems, in addition to purchasing automated systems for palm and finger printing activities. He never stated the cost of this programme.

In keeping with the National Disability Act of 2004 and the Telecommunication Act of 2012 (amended), the minister said that the USF has made special provision to empower persons with disabilities through the appropriate use of ICT. In this regard, he said, the USF has provided grant funding of over JA$19M to the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies (Mona).

“This funding was used to purchase the relevant hardware as well as specialised software (JAWS and Dragon Naturally Speaking) that will enable tertiary and vocational students to do the necessary research and studies at their own pace,” the minister added.

FEATURED IMAGE: Minister Andrew Wheatley.