PNP willing to grant subsidy to close digital divide

CO-DIRECTOR of the People’s National Party (PNP) 2020 election campaign Peter Bunting says a PNP Administration will not allow telecommunications service providers to dictate the market for the provision and expansion of high-speed, affordable Internet.

He has promised that the political party will find the means to close the digital gap, which has disadvantaged rural communities, in particular.

Bunting was speaking at a PNP press conference yesterday, ahead of last night’s second political debate hosted by the Jamaica Debates Commission leading up to the September 3 General Election.

“We cannot leave it entirely to market forces to provide these services at an affordable cost to the marginalised, so we have to have a deliberate intervention to enable high-speed Internet access universally. It is something that we will progressively build out over the next four or five years,” he said.

Bunting pointed out that this will require a subsidy.

“Obviously, if we leave it to the two cellular companies that are providing fibre optic services, it won’t reach deep, rural Jamaica, [and] it will not be affordable to many in the inner-city communities. So we don’t have to apologise when subsidies are given to big companies to encourage production, we applaud it. This is a subsidy for the average Jamaican that will improve their productivity over time,” he argued.

The PNP campaign co-director stressed that there must be a dramatic improvement in access to technology and expansion of the infrastructure to rural Jamaica during and after COVID-19, to ensure that all children can access virtual learning and enable individuals to work from home.

“That will be a powerful stimulus for rural development, where people who work in the BPO [business process outsourcing] sector won’t have to come into [town centres] to access it,” he explained.

In addition to lack of access in some areas, customers have continuously complained about poor Internet service, with those complaints having increased when more people began to work remotely, in keeping with the work-from-home orders issued by the Government to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Last November, Technology Minister Fayval Williams told Parliament that the country’s telecommunications companies have not invested in modernising networks fast enough to keep up with the growing bandwidth demand of customers, which has led to the infrastructure being inadequate for the needs of the population.

She said there was also a high dependency on single-fixed infrastructure and a lack of alternatives in the market, and that this has left the networks open to various hazards and risks.

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