Internet costs and accessibility in COVID-19

Letters to the Editor

Internet costs and accessibility in COVID-19

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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Dear Editor,

COVID-19 has highlighted that Jamaica is still doing poorly in telecommunications.

I remember the days, when my mother applied for the Cable and Wireless landline and it took four years to be installed. Then Digicel arrived and it gave us hope that we would have been emancipated from Cable and Wireless 'mercantilism' and poor treatment. Unfortunately, we are still embedded in that era.

One indicator of development is Internet accessibility and penetration, and Jamaica is not doing so well in these areas. It is not only a rural area struggle, but also a Corporate Area dilemma as well.

I have been a very loyal and faithful customer to Digicel from her colonisation of Jamaica. I have never paid my Digiplay bill late. Even when I travel for months and I am not using the service, the bill is paid. But in times of crisis your true friends are revealed, and there is no friend in business.

I happened to move to a new location within the Corporate Area during the pandemic. I called, e-mailed, and visited Digicel and was told my Digiplay account was not transferable to my new location, which is five minutes away from the old location. Digicel and Flow have neglected the installation of Internet to some new apartment complexes, thus my best option was Digicel Mifi modem. The modem costs $8,000 plus and I purchased a 10GB day/10GB night plan for 28 days for $5,000.

As an educator and researcher, during the COVID-19 pandemic there is no face-to-face contact with students, thus all teachings and meetings are done via the internet. In a few days, the 10GB day finished and 5GB night remained. I purchased another plan for $5,000 and was told that only the day rolls over and not the night. So instead of having 10GB day and 15GB night, I just have 10GBday/10GB night. Thus, within two weeks, I spent $18,000 for limited access to the Internet.

Since they are not able to wire all newly constructed apartment complexes, they could have given us unlimited access for 28 days at a reasonable price.

In addition, the Ministry of Education has negotiated with Digicel a $500 plan with unlimited access to various school websites. Unfortunately, not all features of The University of the West Indies' main online system are functionable on smartphones because an app has not been developed. Thus, students/lecturers/teachers will not benefit entirely from this negotiation. To make matters worse, the negotiated plan excludes those using the Mifi plan via the modem.

Digicel and Flow remain an impediment to national development for education due to poor penetration and accessibility. The Government needs to find better alternatives.

Oneil Hall

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