Vice-president and country manager of Flow Jamaica Stephen Price is calling for a more cohesive partnership including the Government, key stakeholders, and the private sector to further drive national development.
According to Price, over the year, Flow has remained committed to bridging the digital divide, including challenges such as accessibility, affordability and access to devices.
More recently, the company, through its Flow Foundation, has also invested heavily in a digital literacy programme – free of cost to all Jamaicans.
Speaking at the launch of the first public hot spot zone in Morant Bay, St Thomas, Price argued that the expansion of access to the digital world is a “national imperative”, and declared that his company takes its role in the project seriously.
“We are partners for the future. We are powering national development with innovation and technology, and it is through partnerships like this that we will continue to positively impact the lives of Jamaicans across our country. This hot spot is just one of many that we are powering across Jamaica under this initiative with the USF [Universal Service Fund].
Addressing the issue of accessibility, Price referred to advancements in St Thomas’ infrastructure, stating that the company had synchronised its fibre build plan with the ongoing road construction as it makes Internet service readily available to more communities.
“We are bringing fibre to St Thomas…all the way along this road. The roadwork is enabling that kind of progress, that kind of development and we are going to continue to build [our fibre network in] more and more communities in St Thomas,” said Price.
Since 2020, the communications and entertainment company has provided fibre connectivity in more than 500 communities across Jamaica, which allowed many households to have Internet access during the pandemic.
Flow has invested over US$300 million to connect these communities, enabling digitisation across Jamaica as it prepares businesses and residents for the future.
Price also hinted at providing connectivity for new hotels, which are on the horizon for the parish. “I hear hotels are coming here, mayor. We are definitely going to be powering them for you,” he stated.
On the matter of affordability, Price called on the Government, stakeholders and the private sector to work together to make affordability a reality for Jamaican households.
“This conversation must consider that even if the issue of access is addressed, a very significant challenge is the inability of many to afford broadband service. It therefore means that respective governments, while they manage the tough fiscal purse, must also balance this with the income levels of the very population that we are trying to serve,” charged Price.
He suggested capitalising on the initiatives that have worked for other countries where there are structures in place to protect the most vulnerable, so they can still have Internet access.
Price pointed to the United States President Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better Plan’ which provides subsidised access to broadband in the US as an example and argued that Jamaica could use the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) structure to drive a similar initiative.
“We believe this can happen in our country through public private partnerships. Most countries have social safety nets through which they cover the most vulnerable in society. In Jamaica, we have PATH and this represents a huge upliftment to many of our citizens. Imagine if we used the markers of PATH, which recognise our most vulnerable, to be able to provide them with broadband access — either free or subsidised,” said Price.
Through its C&W Business arm, Flow has embarked on a collaborative initiative with the USF, an agency of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology as the leading broadband provider in the island wide Wi-Fi roll-out programme.