| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
This programme showcases government’s innovation in developing an ecosystem of community partnerships to raise efficiency and lower cost, making internet access affordable to needy families.
HA programme was set up partly from penalty monies collected from telecom operators who fail to comply with the standards or regulations. There was a need to maximize this limited budget and no additional manpower resource for the project. Hence, the need to innovatively identify strategic partnerships to maximize impact with limited resource.
At the policy level, IMDA works closely with other Government agencies serving the social sector, so that these policies are aligned with whole-of-government approaches and to leverage existing data and infrastructure for programme management and outreach.
As touchpoints for public, SHGs are roped-in given their existing infrastructure and manpower to handle over-the-counter queries., especially since this target segment may need more face-time to understand the details of the programme. This is a win-win partnership as these needy families are their existing target group and the HA bundle is one of the offerings in their basket of help for needy families.
VWOs is another strategic group of partners for the support programmes in providing training to ensure usage through their volunteers.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The HA programme is conceptualised and implemented by IMDA. As a Government statutory board, IMDA seeks to build a digitally inclusive society by equipping the low-income households, engaging the senior citizens and empowering the people with disabilities so that they too can enjoy the benefits brought by technology. HA is funded partly through the penalty monies collected by IMDA from the telecom licensees.
IMDA, together with NCSS and MSF established strategic partnerships with the social and private sectors to ensure cost savings; work efficiency within the government, independent assessment in means-testing of the low-income families; customised service delivery catered to the different ethnic groups within the community; and a comprehensive suite of user-support programmes designed to promote usage of online services, including e-government services for citizens’ benefits.
Through its network, NCSS brought in other VWOs and their respective volunteers to develop starter kits, conduct training classes and home befriending visits as part of the support programmes to close the infocomm skills gap of the beneficiaries and promote long-term use of the tablets.
To date, the HA is the only programme in Singapore which provides subsidised home broadband connectivity and free computing device to the low-income segment without school-going children.
Under the four-year programme which started in September 2014, 8,000 HA beneficiaries will receive a tablet and subsidised internet connectivity. The programme received good response and over two years, about 7,000 applications had been approved to enjoy affordable fibre broadband connectivity at SGD6 per month (as at Jan 2017).
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Even though the IMDA has been managing programmes to bridge the digital divide, the low-income with no school-going children segment has not been addressed due to low demand in the past years.
With partners and VWOs feedback, and statistics from the Annual Infocomm Usage in Households and by Individuals Survey, IMDA was able to ascertain that it is now timely and essential to introduce a new programme focusing on this targeted population.
In line with the launch of the Smart Nation Initiative in 2014, IMDA announced the Home Access Programme with the aim of making internet connectivity more accessible and affordable to the low-income households without school-going children.
Plan 1: Secure Funding for the Home Access Programme
In April 2014, the Digital Inclusion (DI) Fund was set up. The HA programme taps on the DI Fund, which is channeled from penalties collected from the telecom operators due to non-compliance and Government funding.
Plan 2: Keep Cost of Broadband Package Low
To keep the cost of the broadband packages low and attractive for the low-income, in mid-2014, IMDA did a Call-for-Proposal (CFP) exercise where internet service providers were invited to submit their proposals which allowed each service provider to include a corporate social responsibility element and to propose the most cost-effective bundle.
Plan 3: Achieve Efficiency and Governance through Leveraging Partners and Technology
Although the team could secure the funding for programme, there was a restriction on the hiring of additional manpower for its operations. This is a common challenge faced by government agencies both in Singapore and overseas.
In order to work around this manpower resource challenge, IMDA is able to innovatively develop an ecosystem of community partnerships; leveraging each partners’ strengths to play a different role within the programme. IMDA partnered NCSS, who works with the appointed SHGs as Approving Agencies to ensure that applicants are assessed independently based on the eligibility criteria set by IMDA.
To incentivise the AAs to be efficient, IMDA also rewards them if they can process the applications on-time. The reward is a way to defray some administrative cost of these SHGs. External audit was also conducted as checks on governance.
Application processing is made more efficient through the use of a workflow process system. The reports generated from the system is used to regularly monitor and track the deployment, ensure timely processing, and for data analysis on profiles of beneficiaries and demand trends. These reports are presented to the NCSS and IMDA management on a quarterly basis for accountability.
Plan 4: Customised Service Delivery
Through MSF, IMDA was able to pre-qualify a group of households receiving financial and social assistance, who are notified to enjoy the HA bundle, thereby reducing overheads in application processing.
Individuals interested to apply for the programme can go directly with the AAs which are represented by SHGs from all ethnic SHGs in Singapore. Pre-paid envelops are also placed at island-wide community centers and social service offices to bring better convenience to those in need of assistance.
Plan 5: Solicit Feedback to ensure Relevancy of Programme
Feedback is essential to evaluate the effectiveness and benefits of the Programme. For this programme, verbal feedback is important, as the low-income group may not be savvy to conduct online surveys and more candid information can be obtained through the verbatim mode.
Therefore, a face-to-face survey was conducted with the beneficiaries in 2016 to seek feedback and to assess the effectiveness of the programme.
Regular review meetings are also conducted with partners and internet service provider to resolve any operational challenges and explore ways to streamline the process, where applicable.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
As a media, telecom and infocomm regulator, IMDA is set up to ensure businesses and its citizens can tap on technology as an enabler. As such, it is essential that there are digital inclusion programmes in place to ensure no one is digitally left behind.
The Digital Inclusion team has other programmes targeted at low-income with school-going children, seniors, and people with disability.
The HA programme is designed and conceptualised by IMDA and implemented through strategic partnerships with other Government agencies, SHGs and VWOs.
The roles of each partner are tabulated below:
Role: On policy matters and as an conduit to identify pre-qualified households receiving long and short term financial assistance.
Role: On policy matters and as appointed Administrator to jointly manage the SHGs and Support Programme.
Partner: SHGs, including Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), MENDAKI Sense (Mendaki), Association for Muslim Professionals (AMP), Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and the Eurasian Association (EA)
Role: Processing of applications and assessment of eligibility of households.
Partner: VWOs, including TOUCH Community Services, CDAC, Lions Befrienders
Role: TOUCH – Coordinating agency for support programme, collate feedback on training; CDAC – Conduct center-based training; Lions Befrienders – Conduct home-based training.
Partner: Corporate Volunteers
Role: Help out in center-based and home-based training
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Based on a recent poll, it was noted that 88% of the Home Access beneficiaries are seniors above 50 years old (of which, 65% are aged 65 years and above), from household income of less than S$1,900. The seniors in the low-income group are generally one of the most vulnerable groups with the highest risk of being digitally excluded and socially isolated. This supports SDG 1 and SDG 10 which are to ensure that needy families who are vulnerable and poorest segments of the population also have equal opportunities to enjoy good quality of life and a stake in Singapore’s progress as a Smart Nation. The good demand on the ground with about 7,000 households taking this programme up ahead of its projected date, is in itself a reflection of its benefits to this target group. 97% of these families surveyed agreed that they have benefitted from the programme with the top three uses of the internet for these families are for the purposes of entertainment, searching for information and getting updates on the latest news. By promoting equal opportunities among the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’ and reducing this this digital divide gap, the programme will indirectly support SDG 8 which is bring about a stable and sustainable environment for economic growth.
The implementation of the Support Programme supports SDG 4 to promote lifelong learning, where those who need assistance to use the bundle provided are given free centre-based and even home-based training. Volunteers are also deployed for home-based training to the homes of those who are less mobile. Through feedback, majority of the beneficiaries who attended the training agreed that they had benefitted from the training which they had attended. Anecdotally, many of these beneficiaries like the centre-based training as they also enjoy social interaction with other course mates.
Reference from SDGs:
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Problem 1: Resource Constraint
It is estimated that 4 fulltime headcounts are required to administer the programme. Rationalising and reprioritisation were done to optimise resources for efficiency and effectiveness.
IMDA is innovative in leveraging the resources and strengths of its partners. For instance, NCSS appointed SHGs to ensure applications are assessed independently. Since NCSS and SHGs are established to assist the vulnerable segments, they have experience and resources to support the programme. The SHGs also have ready touchpoints for applicants to go to for assistance and cater to the various ethnic and language requirements.
By leveraging this Whole-of-Government collaborative approach, IMDA is able to undertake the new programme and achieve the outcomes without requiring additional manpower resources.
Problem 2: Exception Handling
While the programme has set criteria to qualify needy families, there are exceptions for families with different situations that merit consideration. For example, families with high medical bills due to chronic illness. To manage exceptions, the programme puts in place an appeal framework. These appeals will be escalated to IMDA, who will re-examine the documentations and independently review the AA’s assessment, taking into consideration the special circumstances with inputs from NCSS and in consultation with MSF, where necessary. Although this is resource intensive, it is an important to ensure needy families are not denied of assistance.
Problem 3: Language Barrier
The low-income group may not be well-educated. To overcome language barriers, the marketing collaterals come in four languages with pictorial step-by-step guides. Moreover, SHGs are ethnically-associated are able to reach out to those who speak the respective languages.
Problem 4: Ensure long-term Usage
The effectiveness of the programme is not just about ownership but about usage. Hence, the Support Programme to promote usage of online services, including government e-services and is an integral part of the overall programme.