It was with great surprise and happiness that the Honourable Finance Minister Colm Imbert and the PNM kept their promise to remove all taxes on laptops computers, notebook computers and tablet computers.
The PNM manifesto states: “To facilitate the participation of young people in particular to the technological transformation, the PNM will empower, link, incubate, support, finance and accelerate access to funding, training and equipment for digitisation. We will remove all taxes on computers, mobile and digital equipment, cellphones, software and accessories.”
This measure will go a long way to reducing the cost of these essential tools for accessing online education in this time of COVID-19 social distancing for educational institutions. It will also assist business by reducing the costs for telecommuting and remote work initiatives. However, the key to unlocking the full educational and economic potential of this measure is the wide availability of internet access to all in Trinidad and Tobago. The web is an essential utility that governments and business should combine to deliver as a basic right.
Universal Internet access can be achieved by providing a digital access tax credit for every citizen to access at least a minimum of download/upload speeds of 4 Mbs/512 kbps required for video conferencing. This credit would be transferable and should by designed to be used with any Internet Service Provider of the person’s choice. New licenses should also be issued to regional service providers to enter the market to utilise the credits to help finance the service. It should not be limited to the state-run TSTT mainly because it would be viewed as another subsidy to prop up the ailing state enterprise to the detriment of superior competitors.
As with any worthwhile free initiative by the Government, the corrupt-minded always play their hand. The fraudsters will find a way to misappropriate the credits/free service so internal controls and measures will have to be implemented to mitigate this risk. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) should be responsible for policing the initiative and have the sole authority for authorising the use of the credits at each ISP.
Thank you PNM for keeping at least one promise so far. I hope the Government takes the next step. Affordable Universal Internet Access.