In a significant boost to the Northern region, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) rolled out the first phase of the i-Sri Lanka initiative in Jaffna last week to enhance broadband penetration and empower the nation to become the research and development hub in South Asia through cutting edge technology and industry innovations.
The objective of this network modernization project, which is expected to be completed in 2013 under a five billion rupee investment, is to dismantle all technological barriers, bridge the digital divide and make information and entertainment services accessible to people across the country.
The key focus of i-Sri Lanka is to revolutionize broadband access island-wide by upgrading the existing copper based access network with fibre optics. This will enable customers to enjoy consistent, uninterrupted high-speed internet services delivered on the network, up to high speeds up to 20 Mega Bytes Per Second (Mbps) and more.
Described as the largest Information and Communications Technology (ICT) project Jaffna, the launch coincided with the opening of the modern SLT Regional Telecommunication Office and Maintenance Centre.
"In line with the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to make Sri Lanka ICT enabled and take modern technology to the grass-root level, this project is a dream come true for the people of the North", says Douglas Devananda, Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprises Development.
This innovative concept create more job opportunities, improve living standards and transform lifestyles through social developments, he underscored. "As a whole, it will contribute towards Sri Lanka’s economic progress".
"This network transformation could have been launched in Colombo or in the President’s constituency of Hambantota or in my electoral district of Kegalle, but the government opted for Jaffna to boost ongoing development initiatives", said Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Minister of Telecommunications and Information Development.
The government’s goal is to enhance ICT literacy from 30% to 75% in 2016 and also create 100,000 new jobs in this vital sphere during this timeframe, he noted. "This is top priority in our agenda".
The superior service offered by SLT via iSri Lanka and the improved Information Technology (IT) services will present an opportunity for the country to earn over a billion dollars through exports by 2016, Siyambalapitiya continued.
The Minister said this project will also facilitate setting up IT centres in all villages in the North – a big technological boost to the region. "It will also help the country to transact online business with the international community".
The launch of iSri Lanka is an important milestone to SLT, the ICT industry and the country as a whole, said Nimal Welgama, Chairman, SLT.
He said that SLT is inspired by a vision to connect all Sri Lankans seamlessly with world class information, communication and entertainment services across the country. The company’s’ new brand proposition - ‘One Country. One Voice’ - epitomizes the infinite value that the brand adds to the lives of Sri Lankans both here and abroad.
After three decades of war, the Northern region is now developing swiftly", he stressed. "This is one of the future growth areas of Sri Lanka which will contribute significantly towards economic development".
The iSri Lanka project will open up a "world of opportunities at their fingertips" as the an ideal platform for private business networking, interactive entertainment, distance learning, online education and e-health at superior speed, high quality and reliability, as never experienced before, the Chairman said.
The same technology that connects the entire country to the global community also provides the foundation that will serve telecommunications in Sri Lanka for the next decade, Welgama noted. "Sri Lanka wants to be future ready".
"With the end of the war, we seized the opportunity to extend our fibre optic cable project to connect Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Jaffna along the A9 main road. This was commissioned late 2010", said Greg Young, CEO, SLT.
He said that through i-Sri Lanka, Jaffna, Manipay, Sitthankerny, Chunnakam, Kopay, Chavakachcheri and Nelliady areas have already been connected to the SLT Broadband network through optical fiber connectivity.
Quoting research by the World Bank, the CEO said a country’s broadband growth rate and its Gross Domestic Production (GDP) are directly connected. Accordingly, there is a link between country’s broadband service growth of 10% and an increase in a country’s GDP of 1.38%.
"At present, the GDP of Sri Lanka is 4,825 billion rupees. The increase in broadband penetration will have a direct impact on economic growth in the country", Young assured.
He pointed out that in developed countries, 22% of the population use fixed broadband services, but in comparison, the percentage with broadband access in Sri Lanka still remains minimal.
Amongst those present were Mrs. Emelda Sukumar, Jaffna Government Agent, Nimal Athukorala, Secretary, Telecom Ministry, J. Blatt, Board of Director, SLT, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, Commander Security Forces, Jaffna, Rear Admiral R. C. M. Wijegunaratne, Northern Naval Area Commander, Brigadier R. P. De Z. Wickramaratne, General Officer Commanding, 51 Division, Group Captain Athula Kaluarachchi, Commanding Officer, Palaly, N. Padmadeva, Senior Superintendent of Police, Jaffna and A. Kirupakaran, Regional Head, SLT.`