USF continues to expand digital inclusivity across island

THE Universal Service Fund (USF) continues its drive to increase digital inclusivity across the island through its projects that seek to facilitate Internet access in underserved communities.

The USF is the lead entity in the implementation of several major projects aimed at strengthening the country’s digital infrastructure, in line with the Government’s mandate to build out a digital society.

Community access points (CAPs), under which computer labs are established in communities in collaboration with community organisations, and the Community Wi-Fi Programme, designed to increase access to the Internet across 63 constituencies, are two of the entity’s flagship programmes that provide free Wi-Fi access to members of the public.

Public relations officer at the USF, Oraine Wallace told JIS News that, to date, 189 hotspots have been established across the island, spanning three sites per electoral constituency.

“Consistent with the USF’s thrust to enable a knowledge-based society through universal access to the Internet and [facilitating] digital inclusion, we are currently trying to expand the scope of the programme with an additional 63 hotspots across the island – so that is an additional hotspot per constituency,” he said.

A community member of Old Braeton in Portmore said the service is a welcome resource.

“I think it is a good idea because the children will now be more engaged in their school activities as well as parents who don’t have the finances to put on data, so I think the free Wi-Fi is tremendous,” she said.

The fund is executing several projects simultaneously, with the objective of fast-tracking the buildout of the national ICT infrastructure.

Other initiatives include USF Connect Jamaica, which aims to establish free Wi-Fi in high-traffic areas (parks and town centres); the Tablets in Schools programme which distributes devices to students at the primary and secondary levels, special education institutions, and at select teachers’ colleges.

“All 14 parish capitals have been provided with Wi-Fi service under this initiative. In addition, public parks, green spaces, and thoroughfares [have been] furnished with the facility. Notably, the fund has established a total of 19 Connect Jamaica sites,” he added.

Wallace said USF has completed five new public Wi-Fi sites in Christiana, Portmore, St Ann’s Bay, Santa Cruz and Spanish Town, which has moved the total public Wi-Fi deployment to 24 for the 2022/2023 financial year. Commissioning of these sites is to take place shortly.

The USF’s Islandwide Broadband Network initiative provides connectivity to schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and health centres, as well as provides these institutions with Internet access.

Also, the National Broadband Initiative continues to fund national projects in collaboration with the National Works Agency (NWA), e-Gov Jamaica Limited, and the Ministry of Education and Youth.

An important aspect of building out the national digital infrastructure is the education of young talent in the ICT space, through its Technology Advancement Programme (TAP).

Tatiyana, who participated in the TAP programme in 2018, said the experience has changed the trajectory of her life.

“I sincerely cannot express how valuable this was and how valuable it can be for others. The best part of this is that I have managed to secure a job, and I am definitely grateful and thankful for TAP providing me with this platform for practical learning and preparing me for the corporate world,” she said.

The 12-month programme facilitates training, certification, and provides work experience opportunities for young people, aged 18 to 35, in ICT skills.

“Budgetary provision for TAP III has been made to train 300 participants in coding, being administered by Amber and HEART/NSTA Trust. Some 200 of these participants have been enrolled and are actively pursuing their coding programme at seven sites across the country, utilising facilities at UTech Jamaica in Kingston and Montego Bay campuses, Moneague Teachers’ College, Youth Innovation centres, and CAP facilities,” he said.