Telco fines to be used to help needy go digital

Telco fines to be used to help needy go digital

The money collected from fines on telcos, such as the record $1.5 million imposed on M1 for its mobile outage in January last year, will soon be used to help low-income families join the Information Superhighway.

This will be part of an $8 million Digital Inclusion (DI) Fund to be rolled out in the second half of this year, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

The fund, which will include possible top-ups from the Government, will be for 6,000 low-income households with no school-going children.

"For individuals and households, the DI Fund will help them level up and enjoy the benefits that come with advancements in digital technology as Singapore prepares to wire up as a smart nation," said Dr Yaacob.

Eligible households will be able to tap the fund for high-speed broadband connections and digital voice calls, for a start. Details, including application criteria, will be released at a later date.

Meanwhile, more low-income households with school-going children stand to benefit from an existing scheme that helps them buy a computer.

From June, households with a gross monthly income not exceeding $3,000 will also qualify, up from $2,700 previously. The changes to this computer ownership scheme, NEU PC Plus, by the Infocomm Development Authority, is expected to benefit 6,000 families over the next three years.

The scheme allows students from low-income families to buy a new computer at a discount of up to 75 per cent, which means paying as little as $146 for a desktop or $214 for a laptop.

Students who cannot afford to pay can earn their computers by doing community services like sorting books at school libraries.

The number of hours they need to provide such services has been halved. For instance, desktop applicants aged below 15 will need to work only for three hours, instead of six hours previously. If they want a laptop, they will need to work for six instead of 12 hours.

To qualify, applicants must be from households with a gross monthly income of less than $2,300, raised from $1,800.

The computer scheme has helped more than 17,000 families since its start in November 2006.

Dr Yaacob also announced an initiative by the National Library Board and the Land Transport Authority to offer e-books at train stations and bus stops by the year end. A new mobile app to allow library visitors to use their smartphones and tablets as a book checkout station by scanning barcodes will also be offered by the middle of the year.

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