High light bills threaten sustainability of Community Access Points
Having spent more than $600 million establishing community access points (CAPs) across the island, one government member of parliament (MP) is now declaring that the entire project is faced with a sustainability problem due to high electricity bills.
Julian Robinson, MP for South East St Andrew and junior minister in the energy and technology ministry, which oversees the creation of CAPs, said in the House of Representatives on Wednesday that "having spent millions to equip them, they are not sustainable".
Robinson, a first-time MP, while contributing to the State of the Constituency Debate, said that four new CAPs were established in the Jacques Road, McGregor Gardens, Deanery Road and St Theresa's Church area of his constituency.
"These community access points serve the need of youngsters who need to do more, but it also serves the need of seniors and elders who want to go into the computer lab, not just to send emails or go on social media, but as a way of empowering themselves," Robinson said.
He said, however, that the cost of electricity is prohibitive and if not contained, could to lead to the closure of some centres.
"One of the challenges we have found with the community access points is that once the Universal Service Fund turns it over to the community, the cost of maintaining it is prohibitive, primarily the cost of electricity. You have to run the AC 24/7 or the computers are going to mash up," Robinson said.
A community access point is an Internet service facility established in collaboration with community organisations throughout Jamaica and funded by the Universal Service Fund in furtherance of the Government's Universal Service Obligation.
Computers, associated equipment are provided to allow Jamaican residents to access the Internet. CAPs enable members of Jamaican communities to use the Internet, at minimal or no cost to users, to facilitate research, bill payments, education, communication, business, marketing and social networking. The CAP also facilitates basic computer training.
The Universal Service Fund has approved funding for 253 CAPs as at December 2014, of which 213 have been commissioned to service. During the 2014/15 financial year, 52 CAPs were established.
Robinson revealed that he has approached the government of New Zealand, which has agreed to fund the installation of solar photovoltaic units at three of the centres.
Since then, there has been the installation of 1,500 square feet of roof-mounted panels at the cost of $2.5 million. The system provides 10kw of electricity, which has seen the light bill cut from an average of $30,000 to $40,000 per month down to $10,000 per month at the three CAPs.
"We have seen at three of the centres a reduction in the electricity bills of over 70 per cent," Robinson said in Parliament.
He added that with solar experiment, it is something that has worked in his constituency and that it would be good to have it replicated across the island.
"We are looking to see how we can use the solar technology to ease the burden on some of these community access points so that they can offer services, some free, some at reduced price to the residents, in order to ensure that the investment that we have made is sustainable," he added.