Internet access in Jamaica grew a lot in the last decade, as it did elsewhere. Our people took to the new technology rapidly. The Government says 82% of Jamaicans now have access, up from 42% in 2015 (World Bank). Rural Jamaica and some disadvantaged communities, however, lacks the infrastructure to support wide internet access. To improve their connectivity, the Community Wi-Fi Programme, funded by the Universal Service Fund, offers free WiFi service in places where access is difficult. Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz, says the initiative is moving  Internet coverage closer to 100%.

We expect this programme to be transformative, and it will likely improve quality of life for all Jamaicans. It has been deployed in many communities already, and is expanding access to knowledge and opportunities once limited by geography. By giving students internet access, wherever they’re located, CWiFi is helping to broaden education and skills development, and improve academic performance. This should upskill the nation's workforce and push economic growth.

Entrepreneurs and established companies in rural areas can now tap into local and foreign digital economies, expand their customer base and find online resources to improve their business, and profits. Bigger, more successful businesses mean more jobs and local economic stability. Improved Wi-Fi is expected to slow the migration of labour and the educated from rural communities. Up to the present, qualified individuals often move to the bigger cities like Kingston and Montego Bay, or abroad,  seeking career opportunities. Access can strengthen these communities, reduce crime and lift standards of living. Healthcare and social services can benefit from the delivery of telemedicine to those with limited mobility or who need consultations for specialized care not available locally. Rural communities can access  online government services and information more easily, and have other essential resources at their fingertips. It’s win / win for everyone.

Perhaps the best gain are the new ways Wi-Fi brings to unify communities, share information, bolster civic activities and force us to embrace each other. Access will strengthen social bonds and increase our connections via social media. Since most Jamaicans have a loved one abroad, CWF will likely allow more frequent and direct communications among families and friends. This increased access will spur collaboration, giving us the ability to share ideas and  work cooperatively using online tools.

Finally, the CWF will bridge the digital divide for Jamaicans and  transform lives and communities and promote inclusive development that will benefit all of us.