Improving broadband services is connected to growthWednesday, September 22, 2021
WHAT would be the impact on the economy if broadband penetration in Jamaica was improved? Giswatch.org reports that there is still a relatively low level of broadband access for the majority of citizens in Jamaica and that over 70 per cent of households still do not have access to a computer.
With many schools still unable to pursue face-to-face teaching, the disconnect in broadband services is taking a toll on students. Schools have reported distributing tablets to students who have no access to data and so never attend classes.
The Jamaica Observer reached out to Minister of Education Fayval Williams for an update on how data affordability among students and their parents will be addressed, however, no response has been forthcoming.
Giswatch.org says that these factors are serious constraints on the Government's move to improve democracy through e-government, which is defined as “the use of the Internet and Internet-based technologies for seamless transactions online between government agencies, citizens, business and other government agencies”.
In addition to streamlining governance and education, researchers ( Zaballos and López-Rivas 2012) indicate that they found that a 10 per cent increase in fixed broadband penetration triggered an average increase of 3.19 per cent in per capita GDP.
Zaballos, Antonio García, and Rubén López-Rivas make this assertion in their Inter-American Development Bank report titled Socioeconomic Impact of Broadband in Latin American and Caribbean Countries.
A later study (Zaballos et al 2019) found that if investment in digital infrastructure were increased by 10 per cent in a year in all the countries in the study (all else being equal), around 375,000 people in the region under study would be lifted out of poverty and around 360,000 people in the region would cease to suffer from hunger.
Other econometric analyses of the economic impact of the SARS CoV virus in 2003 show that those countries with the largest broadband infrastructure were able to offset, at least partially, the negative effects of the pandemic.
According to the study, countries with a developed connectivity infrastructure were able to mitigate by 75 per cent the economic losses associated with the SARS epidemic and the socio-economic impact of health measures taken to counter it (quarantine, social distancing, interruption of air traffic, use of masks, etc).
Locally, researcher Dr Paul Golding has indicated that despite having more than half the population having access to the Internet, Jamaica is not fully leveraging its access for economic and social development.
Golding is a professor of management information systems at the University of Technology, Jamaica. He is the author of the 2017 paper, The Role of ICT in Jamaica's Economic Growth Strategy which states that despite increasing access, total factor productivity (TPF) — which measures growth and efficiency facilitated by technology — contributed negatively to gross domestic product (GDP) between the year 2000 and 2016.
Golding said there is a correlation between Internet penetration and economic growth that Jamaica is not yet reaping.
Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz said in Parliament earlier in 2021 that he is seeking to have the National Broadband Initiative designated as a national development project to be funded by the Government.
The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology has allocated $550 million from across its portfolio to support the initiative, which aims to have every household and every community connected to the Internet by 2025.
Some $177.6 million has also been provided by the World Bank/Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and just over $80 million is to be provided by GovNet, with other existing information and communications technology (ICT) projects to be funded by loan arrangements with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Vaz further noted that the prime minister has mandated several ministries through the Cabinet to allocate resources to this national initiative.
The National Broadband Initiative, which is expected to be implemented at a cost of US$237 million, has two phases, with the first seeking to address needs related to coordinating a novel coronavirus ICT-related response to the public sector.
The next, described as the Last Mile Initiative, will seek to achieve universal access. This is the overall plan expected to be completed by 2025.
Objectives of the overall initiative are said to be: achieving universal access; boosting adoption and usage; improving quality and coverage of key services such as health and education and, more broadly, public services; guaranteeing affordability; promoting entrepreneurship and local content creation; creating new business models; boosting ICT exports and increasing competitiveness.