Whitney Leah Melinard, a student of the Lead Institute, has expressed concern, through a video on social media, about the lack of internet access in the Kalinago Territory.
After almost 3 years since Hurricane Maria, the Kalinago Territory has been among some areas on the east coast that remain without WiFi access.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, students were asked to stay home and engage in online learning.
According to Melinard, this means that these students have no choice but to use data packages and portable routers with data limits for research, which she said is very costly.
“This is costly to our families who are already facing economic challenges,” she stressed. “This, to me, is extremely unfair; while other students in Dominica have unlimited access to the internet, my friends and family are at a disadvantage yet again, through no fault of theirs.”
Melinard asked, “Should I include that may be another example of the implicit systematic racism?”
The Lead Institute student pointed out that the communities of Castle Bruce, La Plaine and Marigot have WiFi, yet, Atkinson and the Kalinago Territory which are located in the middle of these communities don’t have that service.
“I refuse to accept the narrative that because the primary schools have internet access, we should be satisfied,” she contended.
Melinard believes that the services providers on the island have refused to invest in infrastructure in the Kalinago Territory.
“It seems these service providers have simply refused to invest in infrastructure in the Kalinago Territory, but willingly bleed out the last dollar from the beings of the most vulnerable,” she lamented. “The more I look at this case, the more infuriating it becomes.”
Executive Director of The National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC), Craig Nesty, speaking on Q-95, said he is in total agreement with “the young lady”.
“This is completely unfair,” he stated.
He said a number of people in Dominica are disadvantaged and don’t have access to fixed internet.
“There are a number of communities where people are severely disadvantaged, especially with the Covid-19 Pandemic situation where most people are forced to stay at home,” Nesty explained. “It’s rather unfortunate, we’ve tried to put out tenders using the Universal Service Fund to address those gaps. We have been working very hard with the providers to find cost-effective solutions to the problem.”
He said the NTRC put out a first set of tenders for community WiFi for a number of communities in the east coast.
“Unfortunately those tenders were considered; the prices were so high…so we thought that it was best to ask the providers-the areas where there is no fixed internet to provide mobile data at a flat rate,” he explained. “We even proposed that we will meet the cost of all the mobile modems, LTE modems and we will also subsidize some of the costs for subscribers in those areas…”
Nesty believes that what is needed is fixed internet service on the east coast like what exists on the west coast.
He said the Kalinago Territory has technical and economic constraints which are exacerbated by the providers’ argument that despite having insurance on their network, the cost for the upgrade of the new facilities is much higher than the old network, “so they are rolling out in a fashion that will allow them to generate some revenue and use that revenue to roll out in other areas.”
“What I am saying is that the revenues generated from mobile data are so great and internet access right now being a utilitarian service, meaning you are forced to stay at home, you are forced to learn online…it’s almost like light and water,” he noted. “And then these people have no choice they must access the service through their mobile data network…”
Meantime, Assistant Chief Education Officer, Jeffrey Blaize, who responded to a question on the matter during a press conference on Tuesday, said in terms of internet connectivity a study was done a few weeks ago from the inception of Covid , to determine the level of access to devices and internet services in the communities and homes.
He said the survey revealed that a number of the communities, particularly in the east and some in the north, did not have internet connectivity.
He said subsequent to that some collaboration between Digicel and Flow has resulted in the provision of internet service to a number of communities and that basically, “all our schools are connected.”
He advises students in communities with no internet access to visit the schools to access WiFi services.
He also said that devices were sent to a significant number of schools through chrome books.
“We are advising students to visit the schools in small groups with their teachers to receive the chrome books,” Dr. Blaize stated. “We are very careful in that approach because we ensure that we have no more than ten students at a time at the schools and we observe the relevant social distancing and hygiene.”