Before the advent of today's ubiquitous internet "cafes," there were (and still are, in many places), telecenters.
A telecenter is a go-to place for electronic services - long-distance telephone services, mobile telephony, computers, internet access and wifi hotspots.
Particularly located in low-income communities and areas that cannot afford the above services individually in their homes, telecenters are also places where users can gain ICTs and computer skills. Telecenters in some countries also provide support services to SMEs and the community, and focus on work-related activities and professional activities including services for social groups.
Many telecenters also function as a one-stop shop to access public/governmental services such as paying taxes, utility fees etc. usually as a part of the governments' (local or national) "e-governance" drive.
The rapid deployment of mobile phones and related network infrastructure have enabled countries and communities to leapfrog developmental challenges - but a niche for telecenters still remain, especially in low-income communities in developing areas.
Definition: A telecenter can be defined as a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable them to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential digital skills.
A telecenter focuses on a community's economic, educational, and social development — reducing isolation, bridging the digital divide, promoting health issues, creating economic opportunities, and reaching out to youth.
Other names: Telecentres exist in almost every country, although they sometimes go by a different names including
Common/citizen service centre (CSC)
Community multimedia center (CMC),
Community technology center (CTC),
Electronic village hall,
Multipurpose community telecentre (MCT),
Public internet access center (PIAP),
Village knowledge center,
Services provided: Most telecenters focus their services on the use of ICTs for telephone services (landline and mobile phones), computer services, including access to the internet and other electronic services. But most go beyond to also include training in ICTs, education and enterprise/SME and agriculture extension services etc.
Many telecenters fuction as a "social enterprise and provide services such as training services, secretarial services (photocopying, faxing etc.), maintenance services (computer maintenance and repair), sale of computer accessories (CDs, USB devices and other peripherals), renting working space (meeting rooms for workshops, teleworking spaces etc.), library services and counseling services.
Stakeholders: A number of institutions and organizations are involved in the operation of a telecenter, depending on the services and functions provided.
Public agencies such as the local government,
Department of Health and Department of Education are involved, as are
Agriculture Extension services of the national/local government.
Private sector entities such as tourism agences, small busineeses, ISP/Telecom providers etc. may be involved.
Civil society entitites such as NGOs, community groups, womens groups, youth groups, and other entities may provide services and/or use the facilities of a telecenter.
Case Study: The multi-purpose Village Information Centres(VICs) in India partner actively with the local government run programmes to provide information and retrieval services to rural communities in addition to building their capacities in vocational skills.
The delivery of local content — digital, audio, video - and deploying a large number of innovative ICT delivery tools get facilitated through VICs. The purpose of the VICs is to use locally appropriate technology and services for enabling:
Greater and more affordable access to government, business and social services for village residents.
A proven and sustainable business model for ICTs in rural areas.
Socio-economic development and poverty reduction in villages, particularly for the women and disadvantaged groups.
Market development opportunities for small, medium and large Indian businesses
Conclusion: Telecenters can still be important in today's age, especially in lower-income countries where many people still lack access to reliable internet and digital technologies. Telecenters can provide a vital link to information and services that can improve people's lives, such as education, healthcare, and economic opportunities - ans a critical tool for community development, helping to build digital literacy and skills, promote entrepreneurship, and support local businesses.
However, in some higher-income countries countries, the concept of telecenters have eveolved to focus on providing digital skills training and support services to those who are still lacking it, or to target groups with special needs, such as elderly or disabled.
Overall, telecenters can still be an important resource for bridging the digital divide and promoting digital inclusion in many communities. The importance of telecenters may vary depending on the region, the availability of internet and digital technologies, and the specific needs of the community.
NOTE: "Telecenter" and "telecentres" are both globally accepted spellings of the word. For the sake of consistency, "telecenter" is used in this document, except in context-specific locations where it is the official name (for example, "Telecentre Foundation").
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