JM | Nov 25, 2020

Digital connectivity plan needed for Jamaica

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Private Sector Organisation of  Jamaica Roadmap to Jamaica 2.0 webinar, ‘A Conversation on Digital Connectivity’, was moderated by Jackie Sharp today (November 25).

The COVID-19 virus has seen a greater need for digital connectivity in Jamaica and both the government and the private sector are being called on to ensure adequate infrastructure is put in place.

This was the subject of today’s (November 25) Private Sector Organisation of  Jamaica (PSOJ) Roadmap to Jamaica 2.0 webinar, entitled ‘A Conversation on Digital Connectivity’, moderated by Jackie Sharp.

The speakers were Denis O’Brien, chairman of Digicel Group; Inge Smidts, CEO of Cable & Wireless Communications; Antonio Garcia Zaballos, telecommunications specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Gifford Rankine, GM, Group Digital Services, Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB).

The government is pushing for the digitalisation of the economy but is encountering restrictions with the lack of islandwide connectivity.

Antonio Garcia Zaballos, telecommunications specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank (Photo:

Antonio Garcia Zaballos of the IDB said: “The digitalisation of Jamaica is urgent. Not only does it affect schools and tourism, but the entire macro-economy and it creates jobs. We do not have a choice; everyone has to be connected.”

He pointed out that at this time only half of the population enjoys connectivity and that has to become universal. Underscoring this, he presented data which revealed that as far as fixed broadband penetration is concerned, Jamaica only had 9.70 per cent; Caribbean countries, 20.35 per cent, IDB countries 13.05 per cent and OECD countries 32.76 per cent. Turning to international benchmarks, Jamaica ranks 78 out of 125 countries.

The telecommunications specialist at the IDB painted a bleak picture of the current state of affairs of Jamaica’s digital preparedness.

“In Jamaica there is a lack of a backbone network, lack of spectrum, lack of affordability for most people, lack of digital skills, lack of access to handsets and lack of local content. There is a need to update the legislation on infrastructure sharing and there needs to be the implementation of a national broadband strategy. A closer look has to be taken at key performance indicators.”

Inge Smidts, CEO of Cable & Wireless Communications.

Smidts took a more regional perspective and assessed that coverage was not good enough. She said that Flow wants to drive connectivity across Jamaica both on its fixed and broadband networks with the aim to invest in capacity.

She volunteered that Flow’s coverage is mainly on the fixed side of things and it is connecting 20,000 homes a year at a cost of US$60 million.

She took the opportunity to once again highlight the tremendous cost to her company as a result of vandalism and damage to its equipment and installations, money that could go into infrastructure and connectivity.

Denis O’Brien, chairman of Digicel Group.

O’Brien surmised that the nation is at an important inflection point and sees the government going one way and the private sector another.

“Jamaica is middle ranking at best, but there is an opportunity to change that. How do you get tablets into the hands of kids? How do you build a generation of people who can effectively use digital technology, who know coding and app development? Jamaica has the biggest opportunity in the Caribbean and shouldn’t be satisfied with just BPO jobs which is a sector north of US$400 million. You should be able to turn to a 70-year-old person and say, ‘We want you to be a digital native’,” said O’Brien.

“I do think that the price of handsets has to come down and the tax paid has to be re-examined. As much as 30 per cent of our revenue goes to the government in tax. That being said, prices for data in Jamaica are perhaps the lowest in the region. Digicel covers about 35 per cent of Jamaica but more is to come. We have spent US$500 million in the last six years. We can change the economy with digitalisation, but we need a proper plan and the government and the private sector working together.”

Gifford Rankine, GM, Group Digital Services, Jamaica Money Market Brokers.

Rankine noted that the COVID-19 virus has highlighted the digital divide in Jamaica and this has seen Jamaica’s financial sector go through major changes as it looks to pivot to digital services. Nevertheless, people are still going into branches and using traditional means to do their banking transactions.

With more people working from home, the digitalisation of Jamaica has become more necessary and it is time for the entire country to embrace this, added Rankine.

O’ Brien believes that, rather than take the protracted route of time spent establishing legislation, the government, the private sector, civil society and stakeholders should come together and formulate a plan for better connectivity and proceed from there.


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