South Asia mulls cost of telecentres

By Indo Asian News Service | Wednesday, September 27, 2006 | 12:29:50 PM IST (+05:30 GMT) Comment 0 Comment

New Delhi, Sep 27 (IANS) How much should setting up a telecentre cost? A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet and technologies to gather information and communicate with others while developing digital skills.

New Delhi, Sep 27 (IANS) How much should setting up a telecentre cost? A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet and technologies to gather information and communicate with others while developing digital skills.

Globally, these centres are seen as a useful way in which to combat the so-called 'digital divide', by making computers accessible to people who otherwise could not afford them.

But while countries in Latin America and Africa, apart from parts of Asia, have experimented with this route, it is not very popular in India that has been focussing on business-driven cyber cafes or projects to extend computing like the Simputer.

Experiences from Bangladesh and Africa recently came in, to rub shoulders with those from more remote and smaller countries, recently, via the BytesForAll cross-national network, which looks at 'digital divide' issues in South Asia.

Said Ashok Jhunjhunwala of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras: 'We have been setting up Internet kiosks at Rs.55,000 ($1,200) per kiosk. The only requirement is to do it in a cluster of nearby villages (about 200 in 25 km radius).'

Jhunjhunwala, given national awards for his achievements on the technology front, is known to have inspired a generation of students with his advocacy of lowering the cost of telecom and computing.

Jhunjhunwala's work has also spawned a series of initiatives among his former students and others via the TeNet (the Telecommunications and Computer Networking Group) at IIT-Madras.

Said Partha Sarkar of BytesForAll: 'While each telecentre is different, the common focus is on the use of technologies to support community and social development - reducing isolation, bridging the digital divide, promoting health issues, creating economic opportunities, reaching out to youths.'

In some parts of the globe, telecentres are known as village knowledge centres, infocentres, community technology centres, community multimedia centres or school-based telecentres. A special network focusses on them at telecentre.org.

Nazrul Islam of Relief International-Schools Online earlier questioned a decision of Commonwealth Secretariat to set up four access centres in Bangladesh with the cost of 20 million taka ($308,166).

'This means each access centre will cost five million taka. I am not sure how an access centre of four million taka ($61,633) would look like and where it will be set up. I am not sure why this centres are so costly?' asked Islam.

Reza Salim of Amader Gram (www.amadergram.org), also in Bangladesh, argued on the network that each centre that he manages under his project, have four PCs, one digital camera, printer, few employees, logistics and furniture and all these together do not cost more than 200,000 taka.

Meanwhile, a UNESCO-backed 'community telecentre cookbook' suggests that public access to communication and information via telecentres can help more people to access cyberspace.

It argues that 'costs can be kept low by taking advantage of the fact that communication and computing technologies allow voice, fax and internet data to travel over the same telecommunication link'. It notes that sharing of expenses of equipment, skills and access lowers costs for rural or poorer areas.

Telecentres have been promoted by many organisations

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