Center for Tele-Information, Technical University of Denmark
Telecottages in Estonia
The first telecottage in Estonia was founded in 1993 by Rapla County village movement. In 1995, the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages was formed by the all-Estonian village movement KOKUDANT. The association was established as a
non-profit, non-governmental organisation for co-operation between organisers and supporters of rural telecottages. Its mission is to promote economic development, education and scientific research in rural areas by extending the use of modern communication and computer technology, and to establish a network of rural telecottages. The primary role of the association is to develop and support the movement of telecottages in Estonian villages by offering consultancy, research and exchange of know-how and information.
The main reasons for establishing telecottages are by the telecottage association perceived to be the keeping of villages inhabited and economically and socially successful. The primary successes of telecottages have been:
- Changes in society toward democracy and participation.
Telecottages have been an important support factor in widening the village movement
- Deeper involvement of local inhabitants
- Improved access to services
- Improved working and living conditions
- Meeting local development needs
- Disseminating community enforcing information
During 1993, 3 telecottages were established and in the following years the number of telecottages has steadily increased so that the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages by the end of 1997 had more than 30 members.
Table 1: Number of telecottages in Estonia, 1993-1997
Source: Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages
Financial support for the establishment has come from Estonia itself: Civil society foundations and local and central government. The Estonian telecottage movement has not received any foreign donor support. However, the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages intends to seek support from both EU and Nordic programmes: The EU PHARE programme and the Nordic Co-operation Foundation. The telecottage association estimates that external funding is necessary for 60-70% of current maintenance
costs and 90% of investments.
The Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages has links with institutions in both Estonia and abroad. The closest relations in Estonia are with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Interior and with many non-governmental organisations. Internationally, the association has contacts in primarily the Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
2) Users and personnel
There has not yet been made any systematic evaluation of telecottages and their users in Estonia. It is, however, possible to get an impression of the user interests by looking at the content areas that have had the widest interest. The following services have been established relating to expressed needs:
- Agenda 21
- Co-operation with local authorities
- Co-operation with businessmen
- Distance education
- Study circles
- Services to local people
The most successful of these service areas have been the two first mentioned agenda 21 and eco-tourism.
In 1998, Palade Telecottage in co-operation with other telecottages plan to start a project concerning the use of telecottages as resource centres for the promotion of gender equality as a cornerstone of democratic development. The position is that telecottages can improve gender equality and provide possibilities for housewives to telework.
The personnel running the centres must constantly improve their qualifications in relation to new soft and hardwares. They must organise workshops for users and disseminate information to the community in which they operate.
3) Services and equipment
The telecottage as a network centre involves information networks, equipment and services. The centre serves as a place where people can meet, work together and share information and ideas. Rural telecottages can assist in the revival and
strengthening of rural economies. The telecottages in Estonia thus target both residential and business users. They aim at servicingthe community as such.
The Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages lists the following services as services that telecottages may provide:
- Distance education
- Virtual market place
- Regional development planning
- Community building
- Information concerning local events
- Connecting local inhabitants with services and markets
- Exchanging information with local government and politicians
- Connecting villagers with consultants
- Supporting and connecting small businesses
- Telework and flexywork
- Printing of adds, manuals, village news, etc.
- Help to PC owners
This list points at the wide range of services offered by telecottages in Estonia. Telecottages aim at plying a central role in local community development.
In order to provide these services, the telecottage association lists various equipment that must be available:
- 286 or 386 PCs for e-mail
- 3-4 modern PCs for telework and education
- Copiers, printers , scanners, multimedia equipment, modems, phones, etc.
- Office equipment
Telecottages need good communications, at first quality phone lines, later satellite and optical fiber lines, says the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages. Using Internet for rural inhabitants is, at present, very expensive. The association feels that telecommunication providers have too little incentives to service rural areas in spite of government subsidies.
Important for the Estonian telecottage movement has been an active rural movement, KOKUDANT, in Estonia. This movement has given focus to the development of rural economies and social life and has seen telecottages as a means to strengthen rural communities. It has also been important that a national organisation, the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages, has been formed in order to support local initiatives.
The Estonian telecottages have not (yet) received any foreign funding, but they have received funding from Estonian sources, both civil society organisations and local and central government.
The role of government is considered to be important. The policy should create the basis for a successful entrance into an information society, says the Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages. The association expects the state to establish a supporting system for servers and communication cables, investment for starting telecottages, and training for personnel. The association also expects contracts with the public sector regarding information dissemination and communications.
The Estonian Association of Rural Telecottages sums up the enablin and inhibiting factors in the following fashion:
- Support from civil society organisation
- Increased attention from foundations
- Attention from public authorities
- Needs for social development and co-operation
- Needs for networking
- Lack of support from foundations and public authorities
- Inert institutions
- Lack of infrastructure