The Government of Jamaica, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has taken a major step towards enhancing digital connectivity and bridging the digital divide in the country.
With an investment of $53.5 Million JMD (350,000 USD) the government and UNDP successfully rolled out Wi-Fi access to 17 locations across 10 parishes in the country. This move is a significant step towards providing equal opportunities for all citizens, regardless of location or socio-economic background, to access the benefits of the digital age.
UNDP’s “Advancing Jamaica’s Digital Response to COVID-19” initiative, made possible through its Rapid Finance Facility, has not only provided much-needed Wi-Fi access to 17 locations but has also helped the government gain valuable insights into the country’s digital landscape.
The initiative involved the upgrading and installation of Wi-Fi at community centres, schools, and libraries in support of the Universal Service Fund’s Community Wi-Fi initiative and the completion of a Digital Readiness Assessment (DRA) in partnership with the National Information & Communications Technology Advisory Council (NICTAC) and the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology. The assessment provided the government with high-level insights into Jamaica’s digital strengths and opportunities, thereby equipping them with the necessary data to strengthen the country’s digital transformation strategy.
At the project closing ceremony held on 19 April, Linda Maguire, Deputy Regional Director for UNDP in Latin America and the Caribbean, praised the transformative impact of the project. “You can design the nicest project on paper, but you’re not going to know if it is successful until you hear from the people who are using it or not using it,” Maguire remarked. She further added that feedback from teachers, schools, and students themselves was heartening and reassuring, as it provided evidence that the project had indeed given them access to the much-needed digital connectivity and transformed their local reality as intended.
Maguire’s comments highlighted the importance of involving end-users in the design and implementation of development projects, ensuring that they are effective and sustainable in meeting the needs of the communities they serve.
UNDP Resident Representative, Denise Antonio, emphasized the positive impact of the Wi-Fi installations on thousands of Jamaicans. “Digital access has opened a world of opportunities by improving ease of business, accelerating transactions, and improving the delivery of essential public services which are triggers for growth,” said Antonio. She further stressed the importance of broadband access in preparing future leaders to bring a tech-savvy and innovative mindset to solving future challenges.
Chief Executive Officer of the Universal Service Fund, Daniel Dawes expressed his gratitude for the support while making a call for further partnerships with UNDP. “We ask for continued partnership because it is about the Jamaican people. We must do all that we can to ensure this transformational experience continues,” he said.
The target locations, which include two schools for children with disabilities, will be provided with one year of fully paid internet service. The 17 sites have satisfied project selection criteria of high population density, low or poor internet coverage owing to affordability or accessibility and adequate facilities for public access.
As part of the initiative, 17 locations across 10 parishes in Jamaica received a variety of digital equipment, including 160 desktop computers, 25 wireless access points, and 25 tablets, among others. The project, which began in November 2020 and aimed to support the government’s goal of a more technologically-driven society, is crucial in bridging the digital divide in Jamaica.
Globally, UNDP’s support for digital transformation is anchored in its Digital Strategy, which aims to harness the power of digital technology and innovation to respond more effectively to development challenges.