Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Internet Penetration in the 21st Century

Internet penetration is the percentage of a population using the internet. Jamaica’s rate of internet is not very encouraging. Despite significant progress made over the last decade Jamaica continues to have a relatively low internet penetration rate.  In fact St. Lucia at number 11 is the only Caribbean island listed among the top fifty countries with highest internet penetration rate. St. Lucia has an internet penetration rate of 88.5%. Jamaica on the other hand has an internet penetration rate of 54.7%. Iceland is ranked number one with a 97.8% internet penetration rate.

There are many factors which have negatively impacted Jamaica’s level of internet penetration rate.  One such factor is clearly in the realm of economics. It is simply too expensive for the average Jamaican household to purchase a laptop or any device with internet capability. A CPU for example, cost roughly $60,000. Recently I checked a few stores in the corporate area to enquire about a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and I was shocked at the prices quoted. The cost ranged from $56,000 to $67, 000 and this is without a monitor. This is outrageous and unacceptable! The prohibitive cost to acquire a personal computer needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency. We need to find creative means of bridging what is obviously a social- class divide. One way of addressing the digital divide between the wealthy and the working poor is for the government to use some of funds from the account that the telecoms providers pay into and established outlets island wide which would then sell laptops and personal computers at a reduced cost. If we are serious about education we should examine the possibility of giving our teachers for example, some level of discount to acquire laptop and personal computers as this is a vital tool in the teaching and learning process. Owning a computer should not be viewed as luxury instead it should be seen as a necessary development tool which our youths should have ready access to. Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a direct relationship between the rate of internet penetration and the United Nations Human Development Index. In that the higher the HDI the greater the proportion of the population uses the internet.
The Human Development Index HDI is a statistical tool used to measure a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions.  The social and economic dimensions of a country are based on the health of a people, their level of education attainment and their standard of living.
It makes little sense investing in island wide Fiber Optics Internet when the client on whose behalf the investment is being made will be unable to access the hardware due to financial constraints. There is no reason for a laptop/personal computer to be so expensive in Jamaica especially given the rapid changes in the technology which almost makes a computer obsolete soon after purchase. There is just not the disposable income to spend on computers after one pays his/her bills. We must and should do more have every Jamaican household own a personal computer. Interestingly when one visits the websites of major international suppliers of computers the prices are far less than our local suppliers even at an exchange rate of $106 Jamaican dollars to $1US. This clearly tells us that our local suppliers can lower their prices.  
The second factor impacting Jamaica’s rate of internet penetration is the literacy level of our society.  The top five countries with the highest rate of internet penetration all have literacy levels over 97 per cent. There is a co-relationship between the rate of internet penetration and literacy levels. Iceland has a 99% literacy level, so too is Norway which is ranked number 2.
We cannot speak in a vacuum in the discourse to raise the Jamaica’s internet penetration rate without addressing the related factors which directly impact the situation. We must find creative ways of increasing the literacy levels among our people. As a society we engender and foster a culture of reading which presently does not exist.
This fact is more pronounced among our males and this is evidence in the yearly Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) which is administered by the Ministry of Education in which boys score less than girls. This trend is again seen in grade 6 when our primary level students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to gain a place in high school. The literacy level for St. Lucia is 88.5% literacy level while Jamaica’s literacy rate is around 86%.  
Additionally we need to make a determined effort to reduce the cost associated with having internet access. Internet service cost is just too high! It does not make much sense neither to own a personal computer but unable to access internet because the cost is too prohibitive.
A collaborative effort will be needed if we are going to have an increase in the rate of internet penetration. An increase rate of internet penetration promotes a viable and competitive business environment and will definitely attract well needed investment to our country which is necessary to help us out of the economic rut that we are currently experiencing.   

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.