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Bridging the digital divide

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Now that the telecommunications industry has been liberalized, Vincentians from all walks of life can look forward to enjoying the benefits of this new age.{{more}}

Last Tuesday, May 26th, as he addressed the launching of the Universal Service Fund (USF), held at the National Insurance Service conference room, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves suggested that a digital divide will be counter productive to initiatives like the education revolution.

The Prime Minister told an audience that included all the telecommunications stakeholders that his government had to go through the struggle of ensuring that the market was liberalized and said that the then incumbent telecommunications provider had to be taken into this new age “kicking and screaming”.

He noted the progress that has been made in the market since then, highlighting that in St Vincent and the Grenadines there are now 120,000 active cellular phones.

The fund, which is being financed by one percent of the gross revenue from each of the major telecommunications providers, will encourage the efficient access to and use of the telecommunication networks and services throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines, with special focus on rural, under- served and maritime areas, with a goal to help promote social, educational and economic development, according to the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) website.

Dr Gonsalves during his address pointed out that the fund has a budget of $2.7 million for 2009. The event was held under the theme “Bridging the digital divide to provide opportunities for all.”

Meanwhile, NTRC’s director Apollo Knights explained that while the USF was catered for in the 2001 telecommunications act, the establishment of the fund had to be kept on ice until issues related to liberalization had been taken care of.

He said that it was important that the fund not be used to do projects that competition within a liberalized industry wouldn’t take care off.

He also noted that while the USF was intended to deal with maritime access, because of the crucial role that the maritime sector plays in this country, “our citizens and visitors must not only communicate on land but maritime,” he said.(KJ)

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