Protect telecoms infrastructure for students’ education, says Digicel exec
CHARMAINE DANIELS, the chief executive officer of the Digicel Jamaica Foundation, is urging residents to play their part in protecting telecommunications equipment from vandals and thieves, including those who steal fibre cables or computer hardware that provide internet access for students to do their schoolwork.
Daniels made the appeal during a media interview on Wednesday following the signing of two memorandums of understanding [MOU] with the Ministry of Education’s Region Four office for the creation of two computer smart-rooms at the Hanover-based Esher Primary School and the Westmoreland-based Unity Primary School, which are each valued at US$60,000 ($9.2 million).
The signing ceremony took place at the Jamaica Teachers’ Association’s western regional office in Montego Bay, St James.
“We are just relying on and begging you who live in and around the area, whose children will attend these schools and who will benefit from the schools, that the onus is on you to protect the equipment that is there. We do have a lot of outages, with the fibre cables being stolen or cut, and that is not something that Digicel can really police,” said Daniels.
“What we really do is appeal to the communities to take care of and protect the investment, because without it, your kids will not have the internet to do what they need to do, nor will you be able to make calls or do the other things you need to do with the service. The truth is, from Digicel’s side in terms of protection against that kind of vandalism, we cannot do much,” Daniels admitted.
Theft and vandalism of equipment which is geared toward providing internet access has been a long-standing problem across Jamaica, with Science, Energy and Technology Minister Daryl Vaz disclosing in his Sectoral Debate presentation on May 10 this year that several persons have been arrested and charged with simple larceny in that regard during the 2022-2023 financial year. He also noted that the country’s telecommunications companies lost some $2 billion during the previous financial year because of deliberate and criminal actions.
At that time, Vaz stated that Digicel and fellow telecommunications provider Flow have been working together on an industry solution to address the theft and use of stolen phones. He also announced that legislation will be put forward to create stiffer penalties for persons who steal cables and other telecommunications infrastructure.
Schools are often not spared as targets of telecommunications thieves and vandals, as was the case earlier this year when the Sydney Pagon STEM Academy in Elim, St Elizabeth, was broken into and over $2 million worth of computer equipment plus an undetermined sum of cash were stolen. The police subsequently arrested and charged 18-year-old Kessoniel Banton and a 17-year-old accomplice in connection with that robbery.
Speaking to the security of the Digicel Foundation’s planned smart-rooms, of which 10 are expected to be constructed at separate primary schools across Jamaica by 2024, Daniels noted that the foundation wants to emphasise safety in every aspect of the computer rooms’ use.
“In terms of the smart-rooms, we do put a ‘smart-lock’ on the door, because we want that experience of ‘smart’ to begin from you are entering the room. If we felt a room was not quite safe, we would make sure that in our renovation of the room, we limited the access point and that it was really safe for the schools to have these rooms there and have that level of equipment there. The rest is about the principals and the school population just maintaining the investment,” said Daniels.
Each planned smart-room will come equipped with 12 laptops and 12 tablets with headset connections, along with a smart screen and a commercial printer, for the students’ use at each primary school where the room will be installed.