I have spent the past few days doing research on traditional telecenter sustainability. By traditional, I mean telecenters that charge a small fee for offline (photocopying, mobile charging etc.) and online services (Internet access) to meet their costs. While the news is rather bleak, I have stumbled across some interesting sources that might be of use to others:
- International Development Research Centre (IDRC): Regional leader in information and communication for development (ICT4D), their website boasts a wealth of information. I found their 2005 report on Telecenters, Access and Development very interesting (a bit outdated, but still useful). This link provides insight into a variety of information and communication technology (ICT) projects they are supporting (mind you, the articles are for communication so a little too positive for objectivity).
- The Centre for Internet and Society – India: I stumbled across them while looking for successful models of telecenters/Internet centers increasing community income. I found this article “Information and Livelihoods (2009)” very interesting. It shows how Internet access in a fishing village was used to offer information on weather patterns to fishermen. Mortality rates were significantly reduced, income increased and users learned more about the Internet.
- Telecenter.org: The Facebook of telecenter/ICT4D professionals. Their forums are great, primarily because they have active moderators who keep the discussion going. They also send you updates on popular forums and topics, so you don't have to browse the site regularly. Check this one on local content development, i.e. how to make the Internet relevant to its users.
- Seacom Broadband Competition: The competition seems to be generating some interesting links and abstract thoughts on the role of broadband Internet in Sub-Saharan Africa. From the obscure - developing Africa's chess market - to the obvious – improving health care.
- A Guidebook For Managing Telecenter Networks: Great content on building virtual telecenter networks and developing the right content while making the whole thing financially sustainable.
A key lesson to be taken from this research is that content is priority. This is best summarized by Prof. Subbiah Arunachalam:
"The success lies in embedding ICTs in a holistic approach encompassing a diverse range of development initiatives. The trick is not to emphasise technology but to put people and their needs before technology. Sustainable livelihood approaches need to be people-centred, recognising the capital assets of the poor and the influence of policies and institutions on their livelihood strategies."
You will not have users paying to access Internet unless you put the information they need at their fingertips and in a variety of formats. With low literacy levels and inexperienced computer users, people need to be facilitated in their exploration of the Internet and motivated by regular online interaction, strong support networks, reliable Internet connections and content they can use to better their lives.