Minister of Planning Camille Robinson-Regis making a point during her contribution in Parliament

The Government will provide subsidised smartphones to the hearing impaired and visually impaired from next year, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis confirmed yesterday.

This is among projects for 2021 to be funded by the Universal Telecommunication Fund.

She gave the information in Parliament following Opposition queries on the uses to which the Fund will be put.

The Fund totalled $111.2m up to September.

It is administered by the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) and funded by contributions from the telecommunications operators and providers.

Its main objective is to address affordability and accessibility gaps regarding the provision of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services in TT.

Apart from subsidised phones for persons with disabilities, Robinson-Regis said other planned projects for the USF in 2021 are:

(a) TT Wi-Fi: Free Public Mobile Wi-Fi in libraries, hospitals, health centres, transport hubs.

(b) Free Public Mobile Wi-Fi in buses, water taxis and inter-island ferries.

(c) Wi-Fi in designated schools as determined by the Education Ministry.

(d) ICT Devices for Education – 10,000 ICT enabled tablets for schools online learning (from October 2020).

(e) Universal Service Infrastructure Projects – Brasso Venado; Los Atajos; St John’s Parish.

(f) Community-Based ICT Access Centres in Moruga, Fifth Company, Toco, Roxborough, Lopinot.

On other Opposition queries, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said a total of 17,000 devices have so far been delivered to students in furtherance of the ministry’s online learning thrust and 36,000 more will be delivered – for a total of 53,000.

The ministry had ascertained that 65,000 students would require devices in the online teaching project required in the COVID pandemic.

The ministry began procurement of 20,000 laptops through IGovTT for primary and secondary schools and similar government assisted schools. An Adopt-a-School programme was launched for the private sector to source devices. Pledges came from over 50 donors.

Some 21, 577 devices were pledged for students who needed them, including 10,000 from the Telecommunication Authority (TATT) and 5,520 were delivered.

Some 11, 295 were allocated to special needs and primary/ secondary school teachers in July.

Gadsby-Dolly said an assessment will be done on how much more is needed after examining what was provided, including what parents bought also.

She added the ministry will also be paying grants to denominational school boards as soon as possible.