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Half-billion broadband project under way

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Preliminary work has commenced on the implementation of a major islandwide broadband network project at a cost of just over J$500 million over a five-year period.

Managing Director of the Universal Access Fund Company Limited (UAF), Hugh Cross, says the 18-month project to construct the required infrastructure was approved by Cabinet in March.

The plan includes a central server facility, which will host a wide range of educational materials, accessible to users through local area networks (LAN), which have been established in public high schools throughout the country.

The initiative will also provide Internet access to the connected schools, post offices, and libraries, and will facilitate interconnectivity among the institutions.

The project is being funded through the levy on incoming international telephone calls terminating in Jamaica to both landline and cellular telephones.

The four main terminating carriers, Digicel, LIME, Claro, and Columbus Communication/Flow, collect the levy on behalf of the UAF.

Cross said that more than J$7.8 billion has been collected since the UAF commenced operations in 2005.

An agency of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UAF has responsibility for collecting the levy from the call-terminating carriers, who remit the fee to the agency on a monthly basis.

The revenue generated is used to discharge the Government's universal service obligation by financing the implementation of projects to increase access to Internet services islandwide.

The national e-learning project, which is designed to enhance the educational process in high schools through greater use of information communication technologies, is the largest project funded by the UAF to date.

Cross says contracts amounting to J$543 million have been awarded to LIME and Flow to implement, manage, maintain, and monitor the broadband facility over the initial five-year period.

The fieldwork to assess the engineering requirements to establish the required ports at each institution, for their connection to the network over the 18-month construction period, is in progress.

"The service will provide high-speed access to selected schools, post offices, and libraries. Students at the connected schools will be able to access the databank hosted on the servers, and review pre-recorded lectures, and take on-line examinations at their leisure," said Cross.

The network will also extend broadband services into some communities that do not now have this level of access.

"This network is designed to be highly reliable, and if there is any degradation or failure, it will be immediately identified and rectified by the telecommunications firms," said the UAF head.

The objective is to achieve a 99.9 per cent availability.

Approximately 283 terminating ports will be established nationwide in the initial phase, incorporating schools, libraries, and post offices.

Cross says 165 ports will be in schools, 78 in post office, and 40 in libraries.

"We have worked very closely with the leadership of the Jamaica Library Service, and the Postal Corporation of Jamaica, and will continue to do so throughout the installation and operational phases of the project," said Cross.

"We have worked with the schools' administrations through the e-Learning Jamaica Company, and this relationship will be strengthened throughout the construction and operational phases."

e-Learning Project

While the UAF partners with a number of governmental and non-governmental organisations to carry out activities consistent with its mandate, the UAF head says its associate company, e-Learning Jamaica, has responsibility for executing the national e-learning project.

This project includes, among other things, a technology infrastructure component, which entails interventions in high schools, special education institutions, and teacher-training colleges, which are outfitted with the requisite equipment, technological infrastructure, and training.

"Their intervention is to ensure that modern tools are made available to enhance the teaching and learning experiences which, ultimately, will improve results, enabling us to have a better-educated population," Cross said, adding that to date, the UAF has allocated more than J$2.4 billion to the e-Learning Jamaica Company to undertake the project.

Other elements of the project include an instructional materials component for teachers and students in a range of subject areas; and a teacher-training component, which sees the HEART Trust/NTA providing training and certification in the use of information and communication technology in education.

To date, over 11,000 teachers and lecturers have been certified.

A status report from e-Learning Jamaica Company regarding the technology infrastructure component of the project shows that as at December 2010, some 166 public high schools, 16 independent, eight teachers' colleges, five community colleges, and six special schools' —institutions for students with learning and physical disabilities — received audiovisual equipment, while some 162 public high schools and eight teacher's colleges had computers and networks installed.

The technical specifications for a central repository for educational material were finalised for hosting by the Ministry of Education, an interim repository that was established on the e-Learning Jamaica website; and equipment has been delivered.

The company is also awaiting approval and funding for the development and implementation of a programme for 30 low-performing schools, and implementation of Phase II of the e-learning project in primary and all-age schools.