Faster Net links for needy students at more affordable prices

Posed photo of a girl sitting in front of a computer and surfing the internet. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Posed photo of a girl sitting in front of a computer and surfing the internet. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

IDA tender calls for speeds to go up from 1Mbps to at least 25Mbps

Work is under way to overhaul a decade-old official broadband subsidy scheme so as to make high-speed links more affordable to needy students.

Instead of a surfing speed of 1Mbps, it will be bumped up to at least 25Mbps, according to tender documents seen by The Straits Times.

The boost is the latest in a series of enhancements by the authorities to bridge the digital divide.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, or IDA, did not specify in its papers how much needy students will have to pay for the faster speed.

But it limited monthly charges to $14 for an optional "best broadband service package" that comes with the fastest links and the most generous data bundle of at least 4GB.

The tender is slated to close on June 26.

Student care centre supervisor Sujata Beeratan, 33, said the speed boost is necessary.

"You can hardly do much with 1Mbps," said the mother of two.

Currently, needy students pay $1.50 monthly for 36 months for a fixed-line or mobile broadband subscription.

The problem is the subsidy can be used only on SingTel's fixed-line ADSL and M1's mobile broadband services and for a plan that offers a maximum surfing speed of 1Mbps.

The Minister for Communications and Information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, first talked about improving the scheme, known as NEU PC Plus, in Parliament in March, but did not provide details.

A month later, he announced plans to channel fines collected from telcos, such as the record $1.5 million imposed on M1 for its mobile outage in January last year, to help low-income families join the Information Superhighway.

At the same time, the income ceiling has also been raised to $3,000 per household, from $2,700 previously, to qualify for the subsidy scheme.

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.

Those who qualify for this can buy the subsidised broadband plans.

Cleaner Sim Ai Song, 55, said that he is looking forward to the upgraded plans as well as a fibre termination point to be installed in his flat.

"My kids need Internet access to do their homework, but I've been telling them to work in school," said Mr Sim, whose son and daughter are eight and 10 respectively.

itham@sph.com.sg