October 14, 2011
Internet access – Let’s work the resource

Fri, Oct 14. 2011

The National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC), in an advertisement in today’s paper has announced that free Internet access is now available at 28 public locations throughout the country.{{more}}

Outfitting these locations with interior and exterior wireless high speed Internet connections is one of the projects implemented under the Universal Service Fund of the NTRC. The locations include 12 Learning Resource Centres, 9 rural schools, 4 community centres, and three other community locations. An important aspect of this project is that the wireless connections at these sites will also provide free Internet access to persons living within a radius of a few hundred yards of each location.

Even before this development, the ranking of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the Information Communication Technology (ICT) development index was quite impressive. The ICT development index is a measure developed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and compared developments in information and communication technologies (ICT) in 154 countries from 2002 to 2008.

In this index, St. Vincent and the Grenadines ranked third in the Americas, with only the United States and Canada ahead of us. Second for Caribbean countries was Trinidad and Tobago. Two of the factors which pushed us high on this index were the large number of mobile telephone subscribers per hundred persons (ICT access) and our high secondary school enrollment (ICT skills). The ITU said that in 2010, for every 100 persons in SVG, there were 131.8 cellular phones.

Interestingly also, according to the ITU, as at June 2010, there were 76,000 Internet users in SVG (73.2 per cent of the population), and at the end of June 2011, 40,000 people in SVG, or 38.5 per cent of the population had accounts on the social networking site Facebook.

The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should be commended for their efforts to make Internet access available to all. However, Internet access, in and of itself means very little, if the persons using it do not have a good basic education, and the skill to use the resource to alleviate poverty, improve access to health care and education, conserve and fairly distribute resources, and strengthen participation in decision-making processes.

Social networking is fine, but none of the critical problems facing us as a tiny, developing third world country will be solved in the short to medium term without innovation and the utilization of science and information communication technologies. How do we more efficiently feed ourselves by increasing the yield per acre of healthy, disease resistant crops? How can we affordably take high quality secondary education to every corner of the nation? How do we ensure that our people have access to aspects of first world medical care, without having to travel to a first world country? How do we responsibly use ICT to improve the democratic process and hold our elected representatives accountable?

The answer lies in the thinking, skill and creativity of our people, which would mean a radical change in the way we teach our children to approach problem solving. Beginning at the primary school level, our children should be encouraged to look at problems in their immediate environs and try to come up with creative solutions, using all the resources at their disposal, including their Net books and the Internet. Our students at the community college and at universities around the world should be encouraged to focus their studies on ways of alleviating the problems we face here in SVG, not a problem in their host country. The government also has a responsibility to put in place an enabling environment , which would encourage our creative thinkers and innovators. The solutions to our problems do not lie in the reports put together by foreign consultants who have no long term interest in making sure recommendations are in our best interest, are sustainable and are implemented.

If we continue to wait on outsiders to do the thinking for us, in a few years time, all the ICT equipment in our schools and learning resource centres would have to be replaced, and the graduates from those institutions, our people, would not be much better off. Would the investment have paid off? Will we still be just consumers, the buyers and users of the ICT gadgets developed elsewhere, through the innovation of other people? Let us do more with our high ranking on the ICT development index than socialize. Let’s work the resource for the benefit of the nation.