Paul Golding, Columnist
It is widely accepted that information and communications technologies (ICT) are an ever-important enabler of sustained economic growth. Within this context, the second goal of the ICT Sector Plan of Vision 2030 is that Jamaica's national development will be advanced by widespread adoption and application of ICT.
As countries in the developed world push the ICT envelope to gain strategic advantage, what is emerging is what the Networked Readiness Index 2012 makes reference to: a 'hyperconnected' world. In a hyperconnected world, the Internet and its associated services are accessible and immediate, where people and businesses can communicate with each other instantly and where machines are equally interconnected with each other.
The recent Population and Housing Census 2011, Jamaica General Report, along with data out of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) 2007 and the Literacy Module of JSLC 2008, provides some insights as to the direction in which the country is going towards technology readiness, achieving the ICT goals of Vision 2030 and being able to effectively operate in a hyperconnected world.
The data collected provide information on two precursors to technology usage literacy rates and the availability of electricity. Data from JSLC 2008 provide positive results on literacy rates. In 1999, 79.9 per cent of the population was considered literate. In 2008, the percentage improved to 91.7 per cent, still not an acceptable level, as we lag behind regional leaders such as Cuba, 99.8 per cent; Barbados, 99.7 per cent; Trinidad, 98.6 per cent; among others.
Jamaica's directional movement is, however, positive. The 2008 report did not provide literacylevels by parish, as did the 1999 report. The literacy level is improving, despite serious problems in the education sector.
Census data on the availability of electricity, which is also a precursor for ICT diffusion, also showed improvements. Total households with electricity in 2011 was 91.4 per cent, or 805,299, compared to 87 per cent, or 651,405 households, in 2001, an increase of 154,894.
On the flip side of the same coin, total households using kerosene reduced by 38 per cent from 79,066 in 2001 to 48,629 in 2011. Kingston has the lowest usage - 0.56 per cent, or 165 households - and St Catherine has the highest percentage - 13.32 per cent, or approximately 21,736 households.
The telecommunications infrastructure is fairly advanced and the teledensity in Jamaica is high, comparing favourably to most advanced countries in the diffusion of cellular phones. The 2001 census did not capture data on the number of households with telephones. The 2011 census unsurprisingly indicated that mobile is very pervasive, with approximately 77 per cent, or 674,424 households, subscribing to cellular only; 14 per cent, or 123,841, having both landline and cellular; and 3.44 per cent, or 30,334, having fixed cellular or landline only. Approximately four per cent, or 33,832, reported having no telephone.
A parish analysis shows St Andrew has the highest percentage of households without phones, at 13.41 per cent, or 25,757 households, followed by St Catherine, with 13.18 per cent, or 21,507 households. No other parish exceeded 10,000 households without telephones. These two parishes also had a high incidence of no reports: St Andrew with 50,822, and St Catherine with 30,189 households.
Data from the OUR indicate that overall landline subscription has declined by 47.17 per cent since 2001 from 506,544 to 267,617 in 2011. This represents overall landline usage for household and businesses. The decline in landline subscription is consistent with worldwide trends. Cellular subscription has increased by 360 per cent, from 640,000 in 2001 to 2,945,395 in 2011. It is interesting to note that cellphone subscription has declined by 7.44 per cent, or 236,600, in 2011, over 2010.
The 2010 Network Readiness Index, in commenting on the use of broadband Internet access, said: "In recent years, broadband's positive impact on economic development and social networks has become evident to leaders in both the public and private sectors. This essential technology facilitates pivotal socio-economic elements: education, health, trade, and innovation across various industries. Broadband has transformed interaction among businesses, consumers, and governments."
The census in 2001 did not capture the number of Internet users; I suspect that penetration rate was too low just 10 years ago to be recorded in the census. The JSLC 2007 does provide a base year for evaluation and comparison to the 2011 census. The table below gives a comparison. See Table One.
The JSLC 2007 report indicates that 7.6 per cent, or 56,873, of Jamaican households had computer and Internet connection, 8.9 per cent, or 66,601, had computer only; and 83.5 per cent, or 624,855, had no computer at all. The JSLC 2007 did not disaggregate the type of connection - dial-up, broadband, etc.
Twenty-eight per cent, or 246,042 homes, reported having a computer in the 2011 census; this is compared to approximately 66,601 in 2007, a 269 per cent increase in households since 2007. The numbers of households without computers have not changed significantly since 2007: there were 627,855 households without computers in 2007; and 612,706 in 2011. The number of households has, however, increased from 748,329 in 2001 to 881,078 in 2011.
Internet access has also increased, approximately 19 per cent, or 163,314 of households reported having Internet access. In 2007, 7.6 per cent of households, or approximately 57,000 households, reported having Internet access. This represents a 187 per cent increase in households since 2007. The most prevalent type of connection was broadband, with approximately 16 per cent, or 138,328, followed by dial-up with two per cent, and other with one per cent.
Overall, household Internet access, at 19 per cent, compares favourably with average 2010 data from Asia and Oceania (19.5 per cent), but is below the average for the Americas, 35.8 per cent. The average for OECD countries in 2010 was 70 per cent of households, with Korea leading the way with 97 per cent, followed by Iceland, 92 per cent.
With the ubiquity of cellular phones and the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices such as tablet computers, mobile broadband provides the greatest opportunity to significantly increase Internet access and enlarge the scope and use of the Internet in Jamaica.
The data from the 2011 census, JSLC 2007 and the OUR suggest that Jamaica's technology readiness is moving in the right direction, but there is a lot more work to be done. The scope of the use of cellular service and broadband Internet must go beyond just sending text messages and talking, and be used to generate commerce, create new market opportunities, increase productivity, reduce cost and stimulate innovation.
There is, for example, a tremendous opportunity to create content, and as we contemplate digital television switchover, there will be additional need to create indigenous content in various forms, written, audio, visual and combined media.
An important driver of Internet diffusion will be the availability of a variety e-government services. This will drive both business and household use of the Internet. This will also drive Internet use in health and education and help to reduce the age divide and the education and income divide in Internet use. Currently, the gap in usage between elderly and younger persons and for lower-education and lower-income persons is huge, even in developed countries.
Three other points are worthy of noting:
(1) Regulators should ensure that at a minimum of telephone subscribers must have access to lifeline services such as emergency services. The other two issues relate to barriers to access: (2) the affordability of access in relation to income in Jamaica; and (3) the issue of security, trust and privacy.
Dr Paul Golding is associate professor, and dean of the College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.