New Digital Inclusion Fund for the poor to be funded by fines imposed on telcos

Monies collected from fines such as the record $1.5 million imposed on M1 for its mobile outage in January last year will soon be channelled to helping low-income families access the Internet.

Announcing this on Thursday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the money, including possible top-ups from the Government, is part of a new $8 million Digital Inclusion (DI) Fund to be rolled out in the second half of this year.

The fund will target some 6,000 low-income households that do not have school-going children as the latter is assisted under another scheme, which will also be enhanced.

"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.

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

Low-income families with school-going children can look forward to an improved PC ownership initiative, dubbed NEU PC Plus.

The enhanced scheme by the Infocomm Development Authority will take effect in June and will benefit households with a gross monthly income of less than $3,000, raised from $2,700. This is expected to benefit 6,000 families over the next three years.

The programme offers poor students the opportunity to own a new computer at a discount of up to 75 per cent. This 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 for three hours, instead of six hours previously. If they want a laptop, they will need to work for six hours instead of 12 hours previously.

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

First launched in November 2006, NEU PC Plus has helped more than 17,000 families to date.

Dr Yaacob also announced an initiative between the National Library Board and the Land Transport Authority to make e-books at train stations and bus stops by the end of this year.

A new library mobile app will also be available by the middle of the year to allow library visitors to use their smartphones and tablets as a book borrowing and check out station by scanning barcodes.