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By Carlena Knight

A long-term solution to offset costs associated with Internet access and use of devices in situations such as a pandemic, may soon be forthcoming.

During Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas disclosed that a fund could be established that would charge telecoms providers with covering these necessary expenses in the future.

“One of the features of the yet to be implemented Telecommunications Bill would be what we call a universal service fund and in those circumstances the fund would be an ideal fit for this initiative in that, it would be telecommunications authorities that would be charged with providing these sites.

“The fund will be a levy and the operations of all the telecommunications companies will be used to fund these types of programmes, not only with access, but to access with devices as well,” he said.

“We are at a disadvantage in terms of that Telecommunications Bill still being held for consideration in the parliament, but I am hopeful and anticipating a situation where in the not too distant future we will conclude these discussions and for whatever future developments we may have in this particular space, we will have a fund allocated to be able to make these requirements,” Nicholas explained.

Nicholas also disclosed that government’s plan to procure new laptop computers for secondary school students, is set to get underway in short order.

The plan to procure the 5,000 devices was announced in August, to assist with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cost was said then to be a hurdle for the Ministry of Education, but Nicholas also confirmed that they will receive some assistance in acquiring the units.

“The whole idea of an additional set of laptops came out of a requirement from the CXC. So, where CXC examinations are going to be sat, these laptops with certain specifications that came from CXC will be required to be locked so that the students cannot go on websites to be able to respond to the examination questions.

“Those specifications were set and the undertaking that the government made that in the first instance they would precure 5,000 of these units, the cost is not insignificant and we have had a number of benefactors who have come forward and have indicated their willingness to underwrite the cost for the provision of these,” Nicholas confirmed.

Although he did not name the benefactors, Nicholas added that the acquisition of the units will also assist the Education Ministry in filling other gaps where access to devices are concerned.

“To the best of my knowledge there were certain visits to certain schools more recently and the programme is going to come to fruition in very short order. Once that happens, the Ministry of Education will be equipped to not only support other students who may have challenges with access to a device, but at the time of CXC examinations those persons who are going to be sitting the exams will be adequately equipped to do the exams online,” he added. 

Regarding the internet hotspots that were to be identified by the Ministry of Information to benefit students in various communities, Nicholas said that they are now at the stage of evaluating which spots would provide the best internet access.

Following that assessment, discussions will follow with the various telecommunication companies regarding the best possible way to provide these services for the nation’s youth.

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