Robert Lalah, Staff Reporter
( left - right ) PAULWELL and HENRY-WILSON
PHILLIP PAULWELL, Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology, yesterday announced the imposition of a universal service charge on all carriers of international telephone calls into Jamaica. The Government plans to use a portion of the funds collected from this charge to help finance the e-learning project, announced by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in his contribution to the Budget Debate last month.
Mr. Paulwell said that from June 1, all telecom carriers will pay a universal service levy of U.S. three cents per minute on all incoming international minutes for termination on the fixed wired network. For incoming international minutes being terminated on cellular networks, the levy will be U.S. two cents. The payments will be made by all licence holders terminating minutes in Jamaica.
The minister noted that the levy will not be a charge on the Jamaican consumers as it will only be applied to incoming international calls. Based on estimates of international minutes terminated in 2004, the Government is projecting to raise about J$1billion per year from the imposition of this charge.
Mr. Paulwell added that a special purpose company to be known as the Universal Service Fund Company Limited, has been set up to collect, manage and disburse funds under the programme. He noted that this will ensure the efficient operation of the programme.
Maxine Henry-Wilson, Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, said the imposition of the levy holds significant potential for education. She said the e-learning project will be initially implemented in 20 schools, focusing on grades seven to 11. She said this will assist the Government greatly in its quest to elevate the quality of education.
Meanwhile, Mr. Paulwell praised the island's telecom providers for the cooperation they exhibited as negotiations to get the programme off the ground took place.
"Not all countries have had this experience, since some had local and international resistance. The unity displayed by Jamaican providers has certainly helped in the discussions with the overseas carriers and must be carried forward in the implemented stages," he said.
Craig McBurnett, chief executive officer of MiPhone said the cooperation displayed by the island's three telecom providers; Digicel, Cable & Wireless and MiPhone, came about because the companies realised that the money collected from the levy could significantly benefit the island in several ways.
"All industries have competition, but there is no greater unifying theme than education," he said.