Public Internet Access Points: impact vs. sustainability

Let’s imagine there are only two kinds of Public Internet Access Points, that is, a place, different to your house or your work where you can connect to the Internet:

  • A library, a civic centre, or an ad hoc place equipped with computers and connection to the Internet; access and usage is free because its supported by public funding or private not-for-profit funding. Its goal is philanthropic and aimed towards making an impact on people’s livelihoods: empower them to fully achieve their citizen rights, help them to climb up the welfare ladder, etc. Let’s call them telecentre.
  • The other kind is similar to the previous one but it is not free. And it is not because its aim is to return the investment the owner made — an entrepreneur — in the form of revenues that will hopefully become profits, that is, costs will be lower than revenues. Let’s call them cybercafé.

Things are quite more complex and reality constantly shows that there are not pure models. But let’s keep things simple, very simple, for the sake of the explanation.

If things were that binary, telecentres would be having an impact on people’s lives while cybercafés wouldn’t; on the other hand, cybercafés would be economically sustainable (self-sustainable) while telecentres would not.

Internet penetration: a double edged sword

Internet penetration is growing everyday, for several reasons: willingness to adopt because of increasingly perceived utility, lower costs, public policies to foster Internet access at home and work, etc. This increased penetration can have two direct consequences:

  • As more people are connected, the remaining unconnected people will either be too poor/difficult to connect (on a cost/benefit basis) or just absolutely refusing to connect due to personal believes (refuseniks). Thus, it is likely that both governments and nonprofits will shift away from e-inclusion projects to other areas of development that have ranked higher in priority.
  • On the other hand, less people will go to cybercafes, as the demand will necessarily be lower. Indeed, the more infrastructure focused are public policies to foster the Information Society (e.g. putting laptops on kids’ hands) the stronger will be this moving away from cybercafes.
Graphic: Evolution of Public Internet Access Points

So, what will the future of telecentres and cybercafés be like? More than answers, questions is what really arise:

  • Will telecentres fade away and end up disappearing? If they were economically not sustainable (in the sense that they depended on third parties’ funding), will they shift towards cybercafes-like models? Or will some of them just remain to try and cover the needs of the ones left behind? How is it that some voices foresee the end of telecentres while bookshops and cheap softcover pocket editions did not succeed in getting rid of costly public libraries?
  • Will cybercafes shift to more telecentre impact-like focus and less access-based business plans? Will they compensate their shrinking access market by expanding towards a capacitation-based market? Will they be providing more content and, especially, services? Will they create communities of people around cybercafes as it is already happening in cybercafes whose customers are e.g. mainly immigrants and gather together around the cybercafe?
  • Will both telecentres and cybercafes evolve into enhanced centres (e-centres), where communities will gather and benefit from several community resources, computers and Internet access among others? Or will they just disappear?

Fortunately or unfortunately, things are neither that simple nor static and are way more complex and dynamic in reality. But these are, nevertheless, questions that both decision-takers and tax-payers should be taking into account so to be prepared for what is going to be next.

As libraries have provided more than books, but a place where to learn to read and find kindred souls, it is my guess that public Internet access points will disappear as such, and will either be embedded within existing structures (libraries themselves, or civic centres, to name a few) or the existing telecentres and cybercafes will evolve into a next stage where the learning and community factors will be much more relevant. We are indeed seeing plenty of examples of this, and it is a matter of time that priorities or the focus turns upside down: instead of going to access the Internet and finding people, one will go and find people and use the Internet as an enhanced way to socialize. At its turn, this should be accompanied by the end of this false dichotomy on whether you’re a citizen or a netizen, as if the Internet had a life and a citizenry on its own. But time will tell.


Mike Gurstein has an interesting piece just in this same topic: Next Generation Telecentres (NGTs).

NOTE: I owe some of this reflections from conversations with people I met at IDRC on my visit at their headquarters in Ottawa: Florencio Ceballos, Frank Tulus, Tricia Wind, Meddie Mayanja, Silvia Caicedo and Simon Batchelor (the latter from Gamos).


Fourth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (IV). Thecnologies and mobile technologies

Notes from the Fourth IPID ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium 2009, held in the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, United Kingdom, on September 11-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: ict4d_symposium_2009.

Extrending WiMAX coverage for providing Quality of Service in wide rural areas of developing countries
Carlos Rey Moreno

EHAS Foundation promotes the use of wireless technologies for e-Health in Latin America.

Health Care Centres are the reference point of many Health Care Posts, but the later are very far from the former. So, how to coordinate action?

Characteristics of the target areas:

  • Isolated or hard to reach
  • Low income
  • Lack of constnat power supply
  • Trnsmission of voice is paramount

Solutions based on:

  • Wireless communications, as it is hard to wire the area
  • License-free frequencies
  • Low power consumption
  • Low cost of operation

Cellular technologies (e.g. 3G) can only be applied in urban areas due to coverage. Satellite is expensive. Thus why WiFi or WiMAX.

Though WiFi is quite low cost and easy to apply, the usage of voice does require higher quality technologies, hence the usage of WiMAX: allows for long distance links, grants quality of service, etc. The problem being that there are few experiences with WiMAX in developing countries. On the other hand, WiMAX is more expensive and difficult to implement than WiFi. So, how to improve quality while making the whole system sustainable?

The proposal is to build a hybrid architecture that takes the best of WiFi and WiMAX: 802.11e EDCA in the access tier, and 802.19-2009 in the backhaul tier. Another optino being the usage of WiMAX Relay Mode (IEEE 802.16j), which is compatible with fixed WiMAX devices.

There are parallel projects that focus in transferring not only the technology but in training the end-user in their management and, actually, its improvement. A network management system is also being developed so that the project improves in self-management, autonomy and sustainability. This knowledge transfer — besides technology transfer — is made in partnerships with local institutions like governments and the local health care system.

There’s also an ongoing work with simulations that enable testing before final implementation.

Factors influencing the adoption of mobile phones among the farmer in Bangladesh: theories and practices
Sirajul Islam

What is adoption? It is not diffusion, but the decision of a group or individual to make full use of an innovation. It is about the users deciding about how and when they will use a specific technology.

Research objectives: understand relevant theories and models of the technology adoption process, develop hypothetical model and test it, identify the adoption factors relating to other technology and mobiles inparticilar, and explain the factors pertinent to rural Bangladesh.

Relevant theories of technological adoption

  • Diffusion of Innovation, Rogers (1995)
  • Theory of Reasoned Action, Schiffman & Kanuk (2004)
  • Theory of Planned Behaviour
  • Technology acceptance model, Davis et al. (1989)

Factors of adoption of technology: age, gender, culture, income & household, occupation, education, agroecological…

Own model, specific for mobile phone adoption:

  • facilitating conditions
  • awareness, social influences
  • demographic factors
  • individual factors
  • perceived ease of use
  • tech-service attrributes
  • perceived usefulness
  • behavioural intentions
  • actual use

The use of mobile phones in education: Evidence from two pilot projects in Bangladesh
Ahmed T. Rashid & Mizan Rahman

The second millennium development goal as a background: the importance of education in development. ICTs a key solution?

Why mobile phones? m-Learning attractive because mobile phones:

  • Most ubiquitous
  • Specially good “leapfrogger”
  • Not juzt voice but data transfer

Theories of mobile learning:

  • The role of mobile in improving access to education, the basis of distance education. Rural and remote areas where communication is barrier; mobility/portability breaks barriers of time and space; reduction of substitution cost (e.g. less travel); flexibility.
  • The role of mobiles in promoting new learning, how mobile phones can transform education. Learner centred, because it is participatory, customizable; learning with understanding, accessing specific information; situated and constant learning that occurs outside classroom.

Investigate how mobile phones alone (no blended learning, though lab controlled) could be used to introduce interactivity, and copare it to face to face and sitance education with SMS enabled questions. Test outcomes similar, though some evidence of enthusiasm among.

Determine whether mobile phone supported distance education could serve as effective modality for teacher training. Findings indicate that there is very little evidence between study and control groups. Lack of English competency and technological problems being the main problems found. interaction between trainers and trainees which possibly facilitated new learning.

Conclusions are not conclusive. Mixed outcomes in terms of both facilitating access and promoting new learning, though there are signs that it could be possible.



Fourth Annual ICT4D Postgraduate Symposium (2009)

Mobiles in developing countries: hope or mirage?

The World Bank’s last edition of the World Development Indicators stated that Seventy percent of mobile phone subscribers are in developing economies, a mantra that was also repeated on Saturday April 25th, 2009, at Africa Gathering. At least during the second talk it was said that 61% of the 2.7 billion mobile phones in the world are in developing countries, as reported by Ken Banks. Besides whether it is 61% or 70%, the thing is that 83.3% of the World population live in developing countries, a fact that puts in perspective the relative (i.e. per capita) penetration of mobile phones in relationship with the rest of the World’s.

So, is there no reason to be optimistic about mobiles in Africa, then? Well, it depends. Let’s bring some data in for the rescue:

Mobile cellular subscribers 000s (2002) 000s (2007) Compound annual growth rate Cellphones per habitant (%) % digital % of total phones (mobile + fixed)

Source: ITU ICT Eye

Or, graphically:

Graphic: Factors of inequality and exclusion in the Network SocietySource: ITU ICT Eye

Data don’t clearly show the distinction between developing and developed countries, though it can be roughly inferred at least by (sorry for the rude simplification) looking at Africa and Asia (with mostly Low and Lower-middle income economies with very few exceptions — see the World Bank’s Country Classification). The big highlights are:

  • Developing countries have less cellphones per capita than developed ones
  • Most phones in developing countries are mobile and digital
  • The compound annual growth rate of mobile telephony is higher the less saturated is the market

A logical comment about the last statement would be that it’s natural that less penetration leads to higher annual growth rates. Well, it is not that logical: on the one hand, there are countries with penetration rates above 150% (United Arab Emirates, Macao, Italy, Qatar or Hong Kong), so the concept of “saturation” is a tricky one; on the other hand, there are plenty of other commodities and capital goods (e.g. cars or washing machines) that not even dream of reaching these growth rates.

That said, one need to be cautious when stating that there are “many” cellphones in developing countries: this is true in absolute terms, but most untrue in relative ones. But reality shouts out loud that this is changing at an overwhelming speed and that innovation happens at a terrific pace.


Keys to the Success of Digitally Advanced Societies

(notes from the homonimous session at the bdigital Global Congress)

Moderator: Miquel Mateu

Tim Kelly
Success factors for national ICT strategies: Case studies from global leaders

How do we recognise and measure success in ICTs?

Universal service:

  • Availability
  • Accessibility
  • Affordability

But new concerns or challenges that should be included in ICT measuring:

  • Participation
  • Quality and intensity of access
  • Lifestyle enhancement

Ubiquity of access: At anytime, by anyone, anywhere, to anything

Different perceptions of what quality is: reliability? time of response? depending on user and use.

For instance, in terms of proportion of Internet users, the digital divide is shrinking, but new types of digital divide are appearing, the most important of all, the broadband divide: broadband costs are 10 times higher in low income countries than in hight income countries. The cost of broadband access is nowadays a good indicator to prospect about the present and future health of one country’s Information Society.

Chart: Internet Access Inequality (Lorenz curve)Internet Access Inequality (Lorenz curve) (source)
Successful economies

Not only important their rank in the DOI, but also how many rank places they gained along the years.

Republic of Korea: DSL technologies, cable modem, appartment LANs, Wireless LANs, mobile broadband, low prices, active public-private partnerships.

Hong Kong: highest mobile penetration rate, multiple service providers and spreading over many different platforms.

Keys for success:

  • market competition
  • public-private parterships
  • independent regulation

One of the goals an Information Society should address is the “dematerialization” of the society, so commuting, material spending, etc. is reduced so a deep impact is done to stop climate change.

Amadeu Jensana
China, Japan, Korea and India: Asia and the Digital Societies

The importance of the cultural fact as a difference to be taken into account before trying to draw “generic solutions” for everyone.


The structure of big japanese corporations made it difficult to be flexible and face innovation as the new times required. It took some time until start-ups — and their “aggressive sharks” — find their place in japanese society. Of course, language is way an issue.

Homogeneity and the relative small geographical extension of the country have played an important role for standarization and spread of new technologies policies.

People from Japan are eager to experiment and adapt new things.

Long run R&D strategies (5 or 10 years ahead) are possible in Japan, which enables some developments that require some time to develop or to bring results.

Portable or mobile devices, with high number of features, have had great success because of the way of living in Japan (lot of commuting time, lack of physical space, etc.)


Huge importance of public-private partnerships.

China and India

Great infrastructures (India somewhat behind), though still low acquisition power.

Huge economies of scale that enable them to create their own standards.

Sebastián Muriel
The role of is to help Spain to become a networked society as soon as possible

In Spain: increase in both the share of budget spending and number of ICS services/devices in households.

Broadband subscribers have multiplied by four, coverage is at 98% and more than half the population are Internet users. Benefits of scale can be developed, indeed, by the fact that the Spanish speaking community is bigger than just Spaniards.

Goal: not access, but participation and content.

To enable the development of the Information Society, the DNIe (electronic ID) is crucial, so e-Administration and e-Government (among many other e-Services) can be made possible.

Concern in how new generations adopt ICTs: Chavales.

Jordi Bosch
Government of Catalonia: Vision and Strategy of the Information Society

We’re still far from having the solution to how to foster the Information Society. Benchmarking best practices seems to be a second best, though localization and keeping in mind the cultural differences is a must before copying-and-pasting others’ solutions.

Education is determinant for e-Readiness. So does intensity of use.

The key to the “Irish Miracle” is 1921: independence. Being able to define one’s own strategy is very important for a Public Administration (note: Mr. Bosch is speaking on behalf of the Catalan “regional” government, a second level administration depending on many issues from the Spanish “state” Government). If there is no coordination, collusion takes place. Thus, digital cohesion should be a goal.

Pilar Conesa
Barcelona, ICTs at the Service of the Citizens

u-bcn: ubiquitous Barcelona. Inspired in Seoul’s u-city: u-card, u-street, u-traffic, u-office, u-home, etc. Huge deployment of wire and wireless broadband. Goal: enable access anytime, anywhere and using anything.

Infrastructures: deployment infrastructures, with emphasis on Wi-Fi access for city services. All services should be integrated in mesh networks to provide real-time information.

Integrated interaction with the citizen. A big barrier being the zillions of solutions and providers existing… most time not following standards.

22@ Barcelona: transformation of a district based in obsolete technology industry towards a knowledge intensive district.


iCities (IV). Round Table: mGovernment. The Mobile Phone and its integration in e-Government

iCities is a Conference about Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation.
Here come my notes for session IV.

Round Table: mGovernment. The Mobile Phone and its integration in e-Government
Chairs: Nacho Campos

What is a mobile phone

  • Mobile
  • A device you use every day
  • 110% of penetration
  • Many features

Tomy Ahonen: the mobile phone is the 7th medium:

  • Personal
  • Always on
  • Always with us
  • Integrated paying method
  • Immediate tool

mGovernment: how the Administration adapts itself to the nomadic style of the citizen (The Economist)

Goal: from m-murmur to m-chat to m-conversation (unidirectional, bidirectional, multidirectional).


  • Lack of leadership, political and technical
  • Infrastructures
  • Resistance to change of public servants
  • Telecommunication Operators
  • Lack of communication plans
  • Digital Divide

Mario Moreno Sánchez: Mobile Marketing expert

The advertising market is absolutely saturated: the customer can no more get a bigger amount of ads.

The key of m-development is multistakeholder partnerships between the Administration, Banking and Telecoms. An appropriate legal framework is a must.

MMS is likely to be the next multimedia revolution… maybe more than SMS, because, among other things, it’s really multimedia.

Virginia Moreno: CIO Leganés City Council.

Why mobile communication between the Administration and the citizen?>/p>

  • Highest penetration
  • New communication channel with the citizen
  • Integrated with other channels
  • Secure systems

Almudena de la Fuente: Vodafone Government and Public Services Director

How do you sign? With a pen or with a mobile phone?

Multistakeholder partnership: service provider, the Administration, the certifier of the digital signature.

Very simple for the user: just change the SIM (keeping the telephone number) and pay (!) the registration to the service.

Víctor Solla: CIO Avilés City Council

First things first: organizational change before the application of new communication channels.

Technically, it’s everything already done: penetration is (almost) total in the user’s part, and knowledge/data digital management in the Administration part is (or should be) already a reality. It’s “just” a matter of making it happen.

Thus, sometimes the only problem is cost, but not developing cost, but the cost of leadership and organizational change.

The Administration should watch over the existence of an appropriate connectivity so its services can be properly reached. Otherwise, it should foster the establishment of the needed infrastructures, supplied directly or through partnerships with the private sector.


iCities 2008, Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation (2008)

iCities (Ib). Opening Session: Intelligent Cities & Plan Avanza.

iCities is a Conference about Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation.
Here come my notes for session I (part II).

Opening Session (part II)
Chairs Carmen Sánchez-Carazo

Intelligent Cities
José Gumersindo García

ICTs will improve the image that public administrations have before the citizenry: proximity, transparency, etc.

e-Administration and Modernization go hand in hand and they are co-requisites for the development of both.

The Public Sector does have to bet on digital literacy training for their public servants. But not only their employees, but also firms. With this digital literacy many projects can take place: instant messaging for better communication, datasharing through wireless networks, e-commerce, etc.

Free software is very important for the Public Sector, and again, also for enterprises.

Some reflections:

  • To be connected does not mean appropriate use of the Internet
  • To be in the Net does not mean being in the Net.
  • Technological quality does not guarantee quality in Politics

Plan Avanza
David Cierco Jiménez de Parga

Video in Spanish about the Plan Avanza, the Spanish Government plan to foster the Information Society:

The Plan Avanza is a bottom-up aimed plan, where it pursues empowering citizenship initiatives, the main asset being sharing: experiences, resources, knowledge, etc.

Thus, many nonprofits are being the actual leaders of many projects.


For an e-Administration to be really “2.0” in the field of development cooperation, the output of the development cooperation founds should be open: open contents, open educational resources, free software… Once payed with public money, all output should be made freely available to the society at large.

There’s an agreement that there’s an urgent need for training:

  • training on use, to learn how to get the most benefit from digital technologies, specially to the citizenry at large
  • training on e-awareness, to learn how to change our functioning paradigms and models (and business models), specially to decision-takers and policy-makers


iCities 2008, Blogs, e-Government and Digital Participation (2008)