JAMAICA must take action to help raise local Internet access or risk falling further behind competing countries, says Professor Hopeton Dunn of the Mona School of Business (MSB) Telecommunication Policy Management Programme (TPM), who led the recently completed Caribbean ICT Indicators and Broadband Survey for Jamaica.
According to the survey, just 15.6 per cent of households have Internet access while 38 per cent of individuals use the Internet once daily. Meanwhile 24 per cent have access to a computer at home. The statistics, unveiled yesterday, followed news that Jamaica's 'technology decline is amongst the top-10 worst in the world', according to the recent World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report for 2010/2011.
"We need to be able to make information communication technologies (ICT) more competitive. We cannot remain in this plateau that we are in," Dunn said in a video interview with Caribbean Business Report, following the launch of the survey, held yesterday at the Wyndham Hotel in New Kingston.
"I feel that it is a disadvantage in our international competitiveness, if we are talking about under two in every ten persons having I access at home. I feel that access confers an ability to utilise the technologies for economic purposes, educational purposes," he said. "We are creating less competitive workers, less competitive students - we are inadequately applying these technologies to industry, to educational delivery and so on."
Optimistic of a future spike in Internet access, Dunn said that financial barriers must be lowered for this to happen.
Among the reasons given by respondents for not having Internet access at home: 32.4 per cent cited high equipment costs; 23.9 per cent said they had no need for the service; 15.2 per cent said Internet service cost was too high; 10.4 per cent said services were unavailable in their area and 8.4 per cent said they did not have sufficient skills.
Mobile remains the universal technology in the home with 92.2 per cent of persons having access. 52.6 per cent of households with Internet access had fixed broadband access, while 33.4 per cent had mobile broadband access. 14 per cent of those who access the Internet do so via their mobile phones. 75.4 per cent of mobile users are aware of mobile Internet but have never used it.
"With the mobile broadband we may see an increase in the internet usage. I think programmes such as the one laptop per child project should increase the number of laptops available to young kids in schools but I think people who are involved in the commercial sale of hardware, such as the sale of computer equipment, need to find suppliers that can provide cheaper cost hardware and people who are involved in the delivery of the services need to provide maybe wireless access on a wider scale in order to help people to gain access," he said.
"There is an important role for Government to provide the incentives for people to do so (use the Internet) and in the legislation we have and some of the policies we have there is an access fund (the Universal Access Fund which collects a levy on incoming international calls to Jamaica) - an access fund that should be able to contribute that and I believe that we are going to now, having got these numbers, repurpose the use of the access fund to jump the school fence, which is the zone in which this fund is being utilised into the communities to give access to citizens now," said Dunn.
He was also keen to stress that Jamaica possesses ICT innovators but who need greater investment and support. Two recent Jamaican success stories include DC Digital, the technology providers behind LIME Mobile TV and SymSure, a local developer of monitoring and auditing solutions, which has been acquired by CaseWare IDEA of Canada.
"We have a lot of innovators that are untapped," explained Dunn. "Young people who have brilliant ideas that they did not have the funding for. I do not think there is a shortage of innovators. Our jamaican minds are not less capable than anyone else but I think the opportunity to invest in these ideas and the opportunity to work in laboratories and computer centres that can advance these ideas - those things are part of what we lack.
He expressed hope that the findings would inform future decision-making and enable long-term planning to achieve universal broadband access. For instance, he said, the survey has built a profile of users and non-users of the Internet in Jamaica.
"Primary users of the Internet were found to be youth, within age range 15-34 years. Main activities conducted on the Internet were sending and receiving emails and social networking, reflecting the age profile of the user. The user of the Internet for business and economic purposes was quite low. Men were more likely to be non-users than women with 52 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men having Internet access," he said.
The survey was conducted between November 2010 and January of this year with the fieldwork done by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN). Dunn said that MSB will make the findings publicly available online.