Affordable Access to Internet and ICT: A Solution via Telecentres

Affordable Access to Internet and ICT: A Solution via Telecentres

Jay Pancham (Durban University of Technology, South Africa) and Richard Millham (University of Bahamas, Bahamas & Durban University of Technology, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3179-1.ch005

Abstract

Telecentres were conceived and designed in order to provide internet access to designated disadvantaged groups that could not otherwise afford this access. In this chapter, the concept of telecentres, with its goal of affordable internet access for the community, is introduced. A few of the common challenges faced by telecentres and their evolving business models are discussed. The problem of monitoring, with its related aspect of affordability is discussed. In order to provide uniform data on usage and user profiles, a common set of data attributes for telecentre operational monitoring is obtained through a literature review of telecentre data collection projects and through interviews with local telecentre managers. Traditional monitoring methods for telecentres, such as through questionnaires, are evaluated as to the timeliness of their data and their associated cost which impact telecentre affordability. The common set of attributes form the basis of an electronic monitoring system with its advantages of continuous data collection and lower costs.
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Background

Digital Divide and Telecentres

One of the most important concepts to understand when trying to understand the need for telecentres is the subject of the digital divide. Although the digital divide is often referred to as the gap in society between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, definitions of this digital divide do vary and focus on different characteristics such as discrepancies in usage and skills (Min 2010); (in)equality in the of use of IT (Gomez 2012); and educational level and economic status, along with the importance of rural as opposed to urban settings (Mossberger, Tolbert and Hamilton 2012). This chapter adheres to the broad definition of digital divide as the difference between those who have access to IT and those who lack this access; this definition is further specified in that it localises this gap to the varying opportunities of people to be able to utilise computers and the Internet (Van Dijk, 2005).

Similar to definitions of the digital divide, definitions of Telecentres vary by researchers (Pather and Gomez 2010; Gomez and Baron-Porras 2011; Gomez, Pather and Dosono 2012; Seman et al. 2013). This chapter describes Telecentres using the most common definition of Telecentres as provided by the (Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. Sultanate of Oman 2012). This common definition denotes a Telecentre by its intent of permitting people to access IT services in a public place and with regards to the IT and telecommunication services that it offers (Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. Sultanate of Oman 2012). Examples of IT services offered by Telecentres typically include internet access and word processing facilities (Colle 2005; Jacobs and Herselman 2006).

Although it is recognised that the internet is one of the ways identified as being able to provide a positive impact on peoples’ lives through the realisation of benefits in areas including health, financial services, and education, the ITU 2017 paper shows that the majority (53%) of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet, with four-fifths of this group living in Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions. Furthermore, 57% of the world’s population finds Internet too costly in terms of access, requirements for end-user devices, and auxiliary costs (ITU, 2017).

In order to bridge this digital divide, one of the most auspicious methods is in the deployment of Telecentres. Telecentres are physical spaces that supply and enable public usage of IT services and of internet access(Razak, Hassan and Din 2010) By splitting the cost of accessing the Internet (in terms of access, equipment, and other related costs) among many of its clientele, the cost for an individual to access the Internet was intended to be reduced. (Prahalad and Hammond, 2002) To address this issue of affordability in the short term, ITU recommends supplying public free access through telecentres. An example, Pakistan has pledged to the World Economic Forum 2017 that by 2020, that they will provide access to the Internet to all of their nation’s currently underserviced groups through the construction of 200 telecentres (ITU, 2017)

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