The National Data Management Authority (NDMA) provided nearly 200,000 citizens with internet access in 2017, and another 89,000 are expected to benefit within the next five years, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications (MOPT) has reported.
The extended access was achieved through the setting up of 79 information and communications technology (ICT) hubs in hinterland, poor and remote communities (HPRCs) and villages across seven regions, those being regions 2, 3,4,5,6, 9 and 10.
From the period 2016 to 2017, 78 hubs were reportedly established on the coast, and 18 hubs in the hinterland areas of Bartica, Kwakwani, Mahdia, Port Kaituma, Mabaruma, Baramita, Santa Rosa, Matthews Ridge, Masakenari, Aishalton, Lethem, Annai, Paramakatoi, Waramadong, Iwokrama, Sand Creek, Karasabai and Iwokrama.
There is now said to be internet access in 70 indigenous villages.
Sharing her “vision” on how ICTs can transform Guyana, Minister Cathy Hughes, using Estonia as an example, told a press briefing yesterday of how assigning personal IDs to children, to which information regarding various aspects of their personal history are attached, transformed the country. “Imagine that over the life of a person, you build a database of information so the information that’s accumulated on the health side, the health services can access… there’s tax information that’s collected over the life of the person… there’s education information, there is ease of doing business. So, at the end of the day, it’s a comprehensive opportunity for citizens in a country to be able to access all kinds of services…,” Hughes stated. “So that is the vision. That is where we want to end up hopefully in another 15 years’ time. And we are confident…that in 5 years’ time you will begin to see the results. In fact, in the next two years, we would be way ahead of where we are right now. And it’s all part of a smart Guyana concept,” the minister added.
Building on its momentum from last year, the ministry intends to continue its work in providing connectivity to HPRCs through a 5-year, US$17 million project, which will be managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The project is being funded under the Guyana/Norway agreement by the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF). It started December 1st, 2017.
According to an impact projection presented by Chairman of the NDMA Floyd Levi, 90% of HPRCs should be served through this project, with 580,000 citizens being impacted.
According to the ministry, this e-government ICT hub project should see 89,000 residents across 170 communities gaining access to more than 200 additionally established hubs over its duration. From these hubs, persons will also have access to public e-services such as the filing of tax returns.
“This year’s budget provides $50 million for new solar power for the hinterland ICT hubs; $15 million to procure more fibre optic cables, $16 million for more Internet Access Points, and $20 million for power redundancy at our Data Centre…In addition, Government has allocated 700 million dollars to purchase the required additional Internet bandwidth and satellite services to broaden our ICT deliverables in 2018,” Levi related.
By the latter half of this year, the NDMA is expected to begin the National Broadband Expansion project, which will further increase telecommunications access in the hinterland regions. It was related that in the interim, the government has hired private contractors Digicel and Imon Wireless Solutions to provide internet services through the use of satellites in the areas where GTT has no access.
The broadband expansion project includes the expansion of the country’s LTE (Long Term Evolution) network, the upgrading of the current data centre, the creation of second data centre as backup, the installation of more CCTV cameras around the country, the construction of a CCTV footage command centre, and the development of infrastructure for e-health and e-education services, among others.
The US$37 million project will be executed through a loan from the China Exim Bank and will be executed by Chinese company Huawei.
Asked if there are any concerns on the part of the government about working with Huawei given reservations aired by US lawmakers over potential security issues that can arise from the company’s presence in the US, Hughes noted that Huawei is the company that set up the fibre optic and LTE network which the government currently uses to provide internet access to schools, communities and governmental agencies on the coast.
Hughes stated, therefore, that it would be costly to bring in a new company and new technologies, and while she acknowledged the US’ concerns, she assured that the Government of Guyana is going into the contract with its “eyes wide open” and is “monitoring very, very closely.”
“We are aware of those concerns. We are also aware that Huawei even in the US today, has expanded into American markets. It’s a very large Chinese company. We have held all the information that’s available on the company; we’ve done our due diligence…and we haven’t been in possession of anything that is so negative that would at this point in time make us rethink putting in our loan to China Exim Bank and the use of Huawei,” the minister responded.
“At the end of the day, our infrastructure in terms of the fiber optic cable was set up by Huawei and the most affordable way for us to expand is to continue with that company,” she added.
Other plans announced include the presentation of the Intellectual Property Protection legislation, the E-Commerce/E-Transaction legislation and a robust Cyber Security Policy, as well as the development of a National ICT Strategy.
It was stated that the ministry will also continue to collaborate with the IT technicians, web designers, programmers and app developers that emerged from the ministry’s Codesprint and Hackathon initiatives in 2016 and 2017. These include IntellectStorm, Version 75, InnoSys and WeOwnSpace.