eAsia2009 (V): The Asian telecentre movement: the role of networks and their future

Notes from Asian Telecentre Forum 2009 / eAsia 2009 held in the BMICH, Colombo, Sri Lanka, on December 2-4th, 2009. More notes on this event: easia2009.

The Asian telecentre movement: the role of networks and their future
Chairs: Reshan Dewapura, Information and Communication Technology Office (ICTA) of Sri Lanka

ICTs for an inclusive and developed world
Xuang Zengpei, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Asia and Pacific region has, out of all the UN regions of the world, been the most economically prosperous. But also the one more populated and the most disaster prone in the work, including human disasters caused by poverty.

The region has a wider disparity in the Internet usage, and the digital divide will come not from access, but from broadband or lowband access.

Why a need for community e-centres? Disconnected rural areas, population under poverty line, etc.

The Nenasala (Wisdom Outlet) project in Sri Lanka has inscreased IT literacy rate from 9.7% i 2004 to more than 20% in 2008, aiming to have 1,000 centres in 2010.

Key issues:

  • Leadership and organization
  • Financial viability
  • Services
  • Ownership and access

The Asian telecentre movement
Srinivas S Tadigadapa, APAC Intel Singapore

Provide public access to information for education, personal usage, social and economic develoment… Thus, they need not being limited to just kiosks, but shared access for education, telehealth, etc.

Sustainability:

  • Financial sustainability
  • Sustaining staff capability
  • Sustaining community acceptance
  • Sustaining service delivery

Key challenges

  • Connectivity
  • Linking up to local self governing bodies to telecentres
  • Diversity introduces complexy: each area has its own requirements, local community involvement and content, creating value at the grass roots is a challenge, etc.
  • Proper power back up remains a challenge

WiMAX is certainly the solution for last mile access.

Telecentres as access to e-services, a key to service utility. Shared access is important as a bridge to economic growth, employment, training & PC ownership.

Network mid-life crisis — What it is and managment
Meddie Mayanja, telecentre.org, International Development Research Centre

Signs of mid-life crisis (Richard McDermott, 2004)

  • Loss of momentum
  • Loss of attention
  • Localization

Avoiding mid-life crisis in networks:

  • Clear purpose
  • Active leadership
  • Critical members engaged
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • High expectation, not only the one who’s leading, but of all the constituents of the network

Asian Pacific TeleNetwork (APTN)
Dil Piyaratna, Asia Pacific Telecentre Network, ICTA Sri Lanka

In Asia, the most affected by the digital divide are the rural poor. That’s why telecentres deliver more than ICTs: shared access at low cost, meeting place for networking, knowledge centre, access to capital assets, training centre, etc.

Operational challenges

  • Sustainability
  • Lack of IT knowlegeable staff
  • Community acceptance
  • High cost of broadband
  • Lack of content in local languags

Sustainability is beyond financial sustainability. Here is where networks of telecentres can enable knowledge sustainability, or help in achieving financial or self-financial sustainability.

Roger Harris explains how seeking financial sustainability leads to losing your “for development” aim, while forgetting about it turns you into an inefficient government service provider.

The Asia Pacific Telecentre Network (APTN) was launched in november 2008 by UNESCAP and forms now part of telecentre.org.

APTN’s role:

  • Information sharing. APTN to act as the knowledge hub in the Asia Pacific region, being a repository of knowledge.
  • Facilitate knowledge exchange between national telecentre networks
  • Facilitate study tours among networks
  • Consultancy assistance, facilitating consultancy work in Asia Pacific, or creating a database of experts in various areas
  • Funding assistance, accessing potential donors jointly with member networks and go together for greater credibility
  • Event coordination, coordinating events in partnership with eAsia or other larger events (resource sharing, knowledge sharing)
  • Resource mobilization, working together towards a common goal
  • Enabling policy, assisting governments to implement the telecentre component in eGovernment programmes, and including telecentres inproviding government services to citizens in the rural areas

USAID, Last Mile Initiative

Commercial approach, looking at it from a market perspective, with minimum or no subsidies, but an entrepreneur running a centre which provides services on a price-basis (not for free).

The centres run as franchises. Wireless broadband was deployed for the centres and the founding was lobbied for at two national banks.

A package of services (business-in-a-box) was provided so that to lower the barriers of entry.

Lessons learnt

  • The packaged model included fixed prices, but communities are different, and so ought to be prices
  • Services need to go beyond ICT, beyond the PC, beyond Internet access. The telecentre operator has to be free to implement whatever he foresees
  • The franchise itself was hard to sustain and ended up being taken up by Dialog (telecom)
  • The private sector has to see that these telecentres are useful to deploy their businesses

Telecentre Forum 2009 - eAsia 2009 (2009)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “eAsia2009 (V): The Asian telecentre movement: the role of networks and their future” In ICTlogy, #75, December 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=3049

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