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Community Teleservice Centres:

A means to social, cultural and economic development

of rural communities and low-income urban settlements

Impact of Community Teleservices Centres (CTSCs) on Rural development

by Mr. Lars Qvortrup, Telematics Project, Odense University,
Vice-Chairman of CTSC International


In many parts of the world, rural society is undergoing radical changes. Still, rural economy primarily depends on agriculture, forestry, mining and fishing. However, today these activities can support only a limited number of people, and need access to external markets in order to survive. Thus, if we want to preserve rural society as an indigenous society, the rural economy must be diversified, i.e. it must attract new businesses and have better access to external markets, to decision makers and information providers. A further condition for the development of rural society is easier access to training and education as well as to public and private services.

As one reaction to the problems of rural society people move to low-income urban settlements. Also here, however, they confront unemployment, poor educational and social services, and economic problems. Therefore, solutions to the problems of rural society will serve urban regions as well.

Provision of adequate teleservices is one condition to help solving these problems. Telecommunications give access to markets and decision makers and is an essential condition for economic diversification. Telecommunications are also a means of providing training, education, and public and private services. However, many rural regions do not benefit fully from the potential wide range of teleservices, and particularly in developing countries low-income urban settlements and rural communities have virtually no access to telephony and other teleservices.

"Community Teleservice Centres" (CTSCs), or "telecentres" is one way of bridging this gap.

CTSCs are multi-purpose centres aimed at providing computers and telecom facilities and support for local communities in remote, rural regions and in low-income urban settlements. Normally, they contain an office, a public area with access to computers and telecom services, a class-room providing both computer training and general training and education supported by computers and telecom, a meeting-room, work facilities for users (pupils, teleworkers, local farmers, businessmen, etc.), and a small kitchen with a coffee-machine. Typically, a minimum staff is a full-time director (the so-called "CTSC manager") and a part-time assistant who run the centre, serve the users, arrange training courses etc.


Hardware and telecom services vary between centres, but typically include a photocopy machine, personal computers and printers, access to ordinary telephone network or ISDN, modems for data communication (databases, electronic mail etc.), and a telefax machine. CTSCs support both individuals (telephony, distance education, computer-training, village hall facilities) and local small enterprises (business information, office facilities, professional training). As a matter of fact, while many centres are publicly owned or supported, some of the telecentres themselves work as small enterprises.

The first two CTSCs were established in 1985, and in November 1993 there were more than 200 centres in eleven countries all over the world. After a start in Europe, centres have been established in Canada and in Australia, and the first CTSCs have recently been built in Brazil. Here, early results indicate that CTSCs will have an even more important role in the developing world.

The success of CTSCs is due to the fact that they are means of overcoming the four barriers that currently hamper access to teleservices in rural and low-income areas: The network barrier, the service barrier, the cost barrier, and the qualification barrier.

Many parts of the world, and particularly rural regions and low-income urban settlements, lack access to telecommunication networks for plain telephony, not to speak of more advanced teleservices. This is the network barrier.

Secondly, there is a service barrier. Even where the connection to the telephone network has been established, the variety of services available is sometimes limited, and the teleservices are very often based on the demands of the urban population, and are not related to the needs of rural societies.

Thirdly, there is a cost barrier. For a small farm or a small family-based enterprise, computers, including software, technical support, continuous upgrading etc. are still quite costly, and the cost of access and of teleservice terminals is often too high for infrequent users (i.e. small enterprises) to justify individual connection.

Finally, there is a qualification barrier. Still, skill requirements for using computer programs and advanced information and teleservices are high, and not always met by people in the rural regions. Furthermore, the general attitude to new IT is very often quite sceptical.

Not all these barriers are met by teleservices per se, but some of them are better met by teleservices provided at CTSCs.

The answer to the network barrier is that where individual connections to the network are not financially viable in a rural village, provision of access to teleservices at one single place in such a village - i.e. at a CTSC with communal use of the facilities - may be cost-effective.

The answer to the service barrier is to provide not only telephone services, but also computer- and multimedia-based services such as access to databases, to distance training courses, etc., and to do so in a context where these services can be better oriented towards local needs.

The answer to the cost barrier is to provide the rural community inhabitants with communal access to IT equipment, thus reducing the individual costs - i.e. to offer the teleservices at a teleservice centre.

Finally, the qualification barrier is met by integrating on-the-spot training courses and advisory services into the activities of the CTSCs.

The establishment of CTSCs in rural communities and in low-income urban settlements seems thus to be a very cost-effective solution which allows teleservices to be brought deep into the countryside and to provide not only telephone services for public use, but also other telecommunication and data services, as may be required in the specific community. In particular, the fact that a teleservice centre is run by a trained, competent person (the CTSC manager) means that the centre provides much better service to the public than would an isolated coin box or pay phone or a computer terminal owned by the individual local enterprise.

The Background of the Present Document

This report is based on a global survey, distributing a questionnaire to all known CTSCs world-wide, and sending out a list of questions to all known national CTSC associations, public authorities responsible for CTSC programmes etc. Answers have been received from most national associations and public authorities covering Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, and from 65 CTSCs in eight of those countries. Most of the information below is based on this survey. Furthermore the report is based on existing literature, on personal contacts, and on visits to several of
the CTSCs world-wide. Finally, the demand for teleservices in general and particularly for CTSCs world-wide has been estimated by analysing global statistics on the penetration of telephones and by analysing global statistics on postal services.

1. CTSC: Definition and Current Penetration

1.1. Definition

Generally speaking a community teleservice centre (CTSC) may be defined as a staffed multi-purpose centre aimed at providing computers and telecom facilities for a local community in remote, rural regions and in low-income urban settlements, so that these facilities can be used by all people in the community. CTSCs support both individuals by providing access to telephony, distance education, computer-training, village hall facilities, and local small enterprises by providing business information, office facilities, professional training, etc. In fact, some of the telecentres themselves work as small enterprises. A CTSC is different from e.g. a local commercial telefax shop or from a hotel's business centre by offering public access and by combining access to computer and teleservices with provision of training and education. Most CTSCs receive financial support from public authorities, nationally or locally, covering part of their costs. This support may be provided directly or indirectly. As an example of indirect financial support, many CTSCs sell training courses to the local educational authorities. All CTSCs covered by this report are recognised by public authorities or by national CTSC associations.

1.2. Global Overview

The first CTSCs were established in Härjedalen in Sweden and in Lemvig in Denmark in 1985. Since then the number of CTSCs has grown explosively. In November 1993 there were approximately 200 recognised CTSCs in 11 countries world-wide, and if the definitely planned CTSCs are included, there will be 237 CTSCs world-wide in the beginning of 1994. Of these 200 CTSCs, 65 have answered and returned the questionnaire distributed for this analysis, cf. table 1. Of these 65 CTSCs there are 36 (55.4%) private CTSCs (including as well business driven CTSCs as community organized centres, both often publicly supported) and 29 (44.6%) public CTSCs (normally run by local or regional public authorities such as the local school, library, or town hall).

Table 1: Global CTSC Survey - General Scheme

Country No. of CTSCs
Denmark 9
Sweden 23
Norway 5
Finland 49
The UK 57
Ireland 6
Germany 47 (established & planned)
Austria 5
Australia 9 (soon: 25)
Brazil 4 (35-40 more planned for 1994)
Canada 7
In total, November 1993
In total, early 1994 (confirmed)
No. of questionnaires returned
65 (55% private, 45% public)

1.3. The Nordic Countries


In late 1990 there were ten CTSCs in Denmark, five in the rural municipality of Egvad, one in the rural municipality of Lemvig, one on the small island, Fejř, one in the small suburban village Jelling, and finally a bigger teleservice centre, Datariet, in the provincial town Vejle with 43,500 inhabitants. In Denmark, the centres are focusing on educational and advisory services.


All the centres were established as the result of a national programme for rural telecommunication which ran during 1986-1989. After the end of the programme and its financial support, three of the centres have been closed, while two new centres have been started. One of these recent CTSCs is a so-called "computerbus" which goes from village to village offering training courses and information services for local people using computers and telecom facilities.


Since the inauguration of the first CTSC in Härjedalen in 1985, approximately 40 CTSCs have been built in Sweden. During 1989 the CTSC movement was in a crisis and was forced to decide whether to operate as private businesses or to apply for continuous public support. At the lack of public financial support, most Swedish CTSCs decided to work as small local enterprises. Currently, 23 of the Swedish business-oriented centres are preparing the establishment of a co-operative network of centres, and a "CTSC sales-office" in the capital of Stockholm has been opened. Still, however, a small number of the Swedish CTSCs are non-profit centres and integrated in or related to local grass-roots organisations.


In late 1990 there were more than 10 CTSCs in Norway. While in Southern regions of Norway some of the telecentres have recently been closed, in Finnmark, the Northern most district of Norway, nine proposals for CTSCs have been considered, and the first three projects have recently been launched. In late 1993 there are approximately 5 CTSCs in operation.


In December 1988 the first four CTSCs were established. In 1989, a national initiative was taken to support the establishment of CTSCs all over Finland, and 70 CTSCs were built. Some of the Finnish teleservice centres are part of local folk high schools and aimed at educational activities, while others are more oriented towards business services. The public financial support was finished by the end of 1991, but after a short crisis the situation has stabilised, and in November 1993 49 CTSCs are still in operation.

1.4. The UK and Ireland


In Scotland, in September 1989 the Highland and Island Development Board and British Telecom North of Scotland District invited to a conference in order to evaluate the need for Scandinavian type CTSCs in Northern Scotland. At the conference, both organisations confirmed that they had a role in providing some structure to help "pump prime" the development. The first six pilot centres were established in the early 1990s. One of the centres has developed a highly successful telework scheme.

England, North-Ireland and Wales

In England, North-Ireland and Wales CTSCs, or, as they are called here, "telecottages", have developed rapidly during the latest years. In the late 1980s, none existed; by mid 1992, approximately
30 organisations were identified as CTSCs or telecottages, and in late 1993 there were approximately
50 telecottages.


In Ireland, the first teleservice centre, the Information Technology Centre, was established in the North West of Ireland by the County Donegal V.E.C. in 1988. Since then, five more centres have been established.

The Telecottage Association

In 1992, the British and Irish "Telecottage Association", which is a support organisation for teleworkers, telecottages and telecentres, was established with the aim "to improve the opportunities and choice in employment, training and services for people living in rural areas and the development of local economies through the use of information technology and telecommunications, including shared facilities in local centres". During its time of existence there has been an explosive development of telecentres and telecottages, and according to the association's fact sheet from mid 1993 there are now 57 telecentres in the UK and 6 in Ireland, (at a seminar in October 1993 the figure of 70 telecottages was mentioned) with approximately 24 commercial telecentres and 36 community telecottages.


1.5. Germany and Austria


In Germany, a very active CTSC movement has developed with good relations in both Germany and Austria. In total 47 centres are in operation or have been planned, of which more than 20 centres have already been opened. Of particular interest, CTSCs have been established in former East Germany were they compensate for the poor telecom services. Here, 9 centres have been established in 1991 and 1992 on a private basis, while 13 so-called tele-offices have been established by the telephone company.

In the survey, all German CTSCs represented are private enterprises with public support. Still, there are two different types: Some CTSCs are very big centres (like the centres in Kassel or Norden, the latter with 10,000 m2 and 60 staff persons) which do not characterize themselves as local service centres, but rather as instruments for transfer of new technologies for regional enterprises etc. Also, they are not particularly oriented towards problems related to rurality or unemployment. However, other centres in Germany are much more related to the rural community teleservice centre concept reflected in the current report.


In Austria, five CTSCs have been built in small villages in the mountains, and a sixth centre is currently under establishment.

1.6. Australia

In Australia, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy in May 1991 published the report Telecottages: The Potential for Rural Australia. Since then, the same department launched its "Telecentres program", and the first CTSC was officially inaugurated in 1992.

By November 1993, 3 CTSCs have been established, and 17 CTSCs have received grants form the national telecentre programme. In addition, 6 CTSCs have been established by local communities, and
20-25 CTSCs will have been approved under the national telecentre programme by 1995. Currently, in Queensland approximately 30 so-called Open Learning Centres are in operation. As they concentrate on distance learning only, they have not been counted in this report. They may however extend their services, thus qualifying as CTSCs.

1.7. Brazil

In order to support the building of CTSCs in developing countries the non-governmental organization "International Association of Community TeleService Centres", CTSC International, was created in February 1989. CTSC International has assisted in preparing projects in Sri Lanka, Benin, and Brazil. Currently, the first project has been started in Brazil, run by the Brazilian Telephone Company, Telebras, with support from UNDP. It covers a pilot project with a limited number of CTSCs. The first four centres have been implemented in 1992 and 1993, the first one in the 60,000 inhabitants town Brusque in Santa Catarina, and the second in the rural town Toledo in Paraná, both in the southern part of Brazil. They will be used as reference models for CTSCs in other parts of Brazil, and may be used as a reference for projects in other South-American countries as well. For 1994, Telebras has planned to build 35-40 telecentres with at least one centre for each of the state-based operating companies. These centres will then be the second phase reference models, and the final aim is to built approximately 13,000 centres (more information about the CTSC programme in Brazil is given in section 5 below). In Brazil, the ownership model is different: here the centre is run by the telephone company, while the services are provided by independent public or private entities.

1.8. Canada

In Newfoundland and Labrador in North-East Canada following the conference "Bridging the Distance" in May 1990 it was decided to establish teleservice centres in a number of remote villages and towns, benefiting from the information services of the Enterprise Network and from a big number of open-university courses which have been set up based on the interactive audio teleconference system TCS. In late 1993, business information services are provided from 7 regional telecentres (located in Clarenville, Trepassey, Forteau, St. Alban's, St. John's, Stephenville and Baie Verte in the regions of Newfoundland and Labrador) connected to the ACOA/Enterprise Network. In addition there are 3 so-called "mini-centres" in the same area.


The Canadian project began as a European idea which then went through a process of "technology transfer", thereby developing new approaches and services. Currently, the approach is as much to foster "information seeking behaviour" among small and medium sized enterprises as it is the diffusion of technology or the application of information. Regarding services, the parallel and integrated establishment of both telecentres and an on-line service represents an important distinction from the European model. Actually, the presence of an on-line e-mail and file transfer service together with other communications services have proved to be very helpful.

1.9. Forthcoming Projects

In addition to the above-mentioned CTSCs, projects are currently being considered in Benin, Greece, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, and interest has been expressed by Bhutan and Tunisia. In Benin, detailed feasibility studies have been made, and plans are being discussed to build four pilot CTSCs, giving access to basic teleservices like telephony, telefax and information services .

2. CTSCs: Current Viability and Contribution to Development of Rural and Remote Regions

2.1. Facilities Available at CTSCs

The components of a community teleservice centre include premises, staff and equipment. Often, the centres are located in schools, libraries, local authority buildings, or converted houses, and they normally contain an office, a public area with access to computers and telecom services, a class-room providing computer training and computer and telecom supported training and education, a meeting-room, work facilities for users (pupils, local farmers or businessmen), and a small kitchen with a coffee-machine. A minimum staff typically is a full-time CTSC manager and a part-time assistant.

Equipment items vary between centres, but may include the following:

· photocopier

· personal computers, typically 2 to 5 in number

· printers, typically 1 or 2

· scanners

· access to ordinary telephone network or ISDN

· modems, for data communication (databases, electronic mail etc.) via the telephone network

· telefax

· video-production and editing equipment

· sometimes facilities for broadcasting of local radio or television

· sometimes even facilities for videoconferencing

· ancillary equipment such as reference books and teaching aids.


Actually, according to the CTSC survey, technical equipment at CTSCs is distributed as follows:

Table 2: Distribution of technical equipment (N= 65 CTSCs)

Equipment Number (in percentage)
Access to ordinary telephone network 100%
Personal computers 100%
Printers 98.5%
Scanners 96.9%
Telefax 87.7%
Photocopier 83.1%
Access to databases 66.2%
Electronic mail 61.5%
Access to data network 47.7%
Access to satellite services 1.5%
Access to ISDN 20%
Videoconferencing facilities 9.2%
CD-rom 6.2%
Others (teleconferencing, videotex) 3.1%

As can be seen, 80-100% of all CTSCs have personal computers, printers, scanners, and a photocopy machine, and access to ordinary telephony and a telefax. This can be defined as the first generation CTSC equipment. Between 40-80% of the CTSCs have access to more advanced teleservices which within the CTSC context represent the second generation of facilities. The number of CTSCs with these facilities is currently growing fast, and the experience from Canada where CTSCs and on-line services have been established in parallel and have been carefully co-ordinated, particularly demonstrates the future importance of these services. 20% of the CTSCs have access to ISDN, while only a limited number have video-communication facilities.

In most centres a wide range of software products are provided, which may include word-processing and desktop publishing programs; spread-sheets and integrated packages; graphics and computer aided design; programs (word processors, simple programming languages, training programs) for educational purposes; computer games; accounting packages; farm data recording and livestock management programs; etc.

Within each centre, the personal computers usually are linked together in a network. Also, the centres within a region or at least a local community usually are networked, allowing shared access to software and to specialised (technical) service, and communication between centres.

2.2. Services available at CTSCs

The services provided vary considerably between countries and between centres within countries, but the following basic services are provided by most of the CTSCs:

· Information services: access to regional, national and international databases (regional library files, local authority information, etc.)

· Telecommunications facilities: telefax, electronic mail, etc.

· Data-processing services: word-processing and desktop publishing programs. Professional programs (business accounting programs, agricultural programs, etc.). A wide selection of other programs.

· IT-consultancy: the management is undertaken by the CTSC manager, who also assists local businesses and organizations.

· Training and education: introductory computer courses, and "Open University" type on-line tutorials.

· Village hall facilities: rooms and facilities for meetings, municipal and county information, etc.

· Distance working facilities: some of the CTSCs provide work-stations for distance working.

· Some of the CTSCs hire out video-production equipment and provide access to editing facilities.

· Some of the CTSCs provide facilities for local entrepreneurs who need (infrequent) access to computer and telecommunication equipment or who want to set up a new information-based business without too big initial investments.

Some of these services have been recorded in the CTSC survey with the following distribution:

Table 3: Distribution of services (1993) (N= 65 CTSCs)





Computer training 86.1% 75.9% 81.5%
Photo copying 83.3% 75.9% 80.0%
Telefax service 80.6% 72.4% 76.9%
Office facilities 83.3% 69.0% 76.9%
Desk top publish. 77.8% 72.4% 75.4%
Hiring out/offices 66.7% 48.3% 58.5%
Distance work 55.6% 27.6% 43.1%
Translation 44.4% 24.1% 35.4%
Distance training 13.9% 24.1% 18.5%
Other commun serv 8.3% 17.2% 12.3%
Other business serv 8.3% 17.2% 12.3%
Video conference 8.3% 6.9% 7.7%

As can be seen, the most popular services are computer training, photo copying, telefax service, access to office facilities, and desk top publishing. Thus, CTSCs are typically used as centres for computer training, and they are used by private and small enterprise people for ordinary office and communication purposes. Secondly the are used for hiring office facilities and for distance work, which implies that CTSCs directly support newly established small information based enterprises in rural and remote regions.

In addition, from the table it can be seen that information technological services offered by private CTSCs are used more intensively than similar services at public CTSCs except from distance training and "other" services. The reason seems to be that private CTSCs are more often used for "specific" services, while public centres have a more general function, including services (meeting facilities, social services etc.) not directly involving information technology (and thus not counting in the statistical report).

2.3. Number of Users and Staff

As was said above, the CTSC management is typically undertaken by a full-time or part-time CTSC manager and an office assistant. They take care of buildings and equipment, they run training courses, and they assist local businesses and organizations. The users registered are both private persons, using the training facilities occasionally or on a more permanent basis, and local enterprise representatives using the facilities for business purposes or even hiring technical equipment and offices at a more permanent basis.

Table 4: Average number of users and staff per CTSC (1993) (N= 65 CTSCs)





No. paid staff 2.7 2.5 2.6
No. users/week 39 34 37

It should be noticed that staff figures represent as well full time as part time staff. A typical structure is that a centre employs a full time director plus 2-3 part time assistants.

As regards the number of users it must be noticed that quite a portion of the CTSCs are open only part of the day or only some of the week days. In addition, while some of the users visit the centres for short time purposes (to use the fax machine etc.), most users come for training courses, or they work at the centre, hiring office facilities etc. on a permanent basis. Many of these persons visit the centre several times per week, even though they are only registered as one user.

Finally, there is a marked difference between centres in Europe and in developing countries (the Brazilian CTSCs are not represented in the present survey). In the latter countries people use the CTSCs for telephony etc. Consequently, the number of users is typically many times as high as in table 4 (cf. section 5.2. below).

2.4. Geographical and Social Context

By definition, CTSCs are centres placed in a geographically remote or socially deprived region. By this is meant that CTSCs may serve both people in small rural villages, and people in less-favoured regions of towns and cities.

Through the CTSC survey it is now possible to get a picture of the location of CTSCs. It appears that 11.5% of the CTSCs in the survey are located in towns or cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants, while 26% are located in or within a distance of 10 km's of such urban regions. However, more than 60% are placed more than 20 km's outside a 10,000+ town. For almost 15% the distance is more than 100 km's, and in Canada and Sweden two CTSCs are 350 and 360 km's from the nearest town. Here, of course other geographical barriers (like water, bad roads, traffic congestion etc.) have not been reflected.

Table 5: Distance to nearest town >10,000 inhabitants (N=65 CTSCs)

Distance in km's Rate of CTSCs in percent
0-1 11.5%
1-10 14.8%
10-20 13.1%
20-40 24.6%
40-100 21.3%
100+ 14.8%

Regarding the social context, a dominating portion of the CTSCs are placed in regions dominated by industries based on agriculture, forestry, fishing, or mining, with public services as the second sector in terms of number of employees. Thus, the general centralisation of economy, the increasing productivity of the traditional extractive industries and their dependency of external enterprises is very much felt in these regions, and the need for attracting new industries, with particular focus on information industries, is evident.

This is reflected by the very high rate of unemployment. The average rate of unemployment in the regions (defined as the local municipality) with CTSCs is 16.6% ranging from an average of 10% in the Austrian CTSC communities over an average of 20% in the Finnish and Irish CTSC communities to more than 40% in some of the Canadian CTSC communities.

2.5. Life Cycle

Most of the CTSCs analyzed in the CTSC survey have been established during the 1990s. Thus, very little can be said about a "typical" development curve of these centres.

However, the Nordic countries have a longer tradition of CTSCs, and here a general pattern seems to be identifiable.

Table 6: CTSC Life Cycle (No. of CTSCs in certain years)





1985 1 1  
1988 10 40 1
1991 8 26 70
1993 8 23 49

In all these countries (and actually in most countries reflected in this report) CTSCs are launched as a result of a national public support programme. As can be seen, such financial and knowledge support results in the quick establishment of a big number of centres. However, in the life cycle it seems that after three years there is a crisis of CTSCs. This is typically a result of the stop of initial public funding, or it is due to the fact that some of the CTSCs have been started under unrealistic conditions (for example that a small CTSC with very limited resources is expected to solve major social and economic problems).

Preliminary conclusions from this statistically insignificant basis may be that it is important:

· to be as realistic as possible during the initial phase (and to support a careful local problem identification) so that the CTSC actually matches the local problems. Here, almost 10 years of experience should help us to avoid some of the problems experienced by the pioneers.

· to realize that some kind of "natural selection" after the initial period's peak point is a natural part of such programmes (even though it must of course be limited as far as possible).

· to plan the public support programme carefully. If the programme is time-limited (and 3-5 years seem to be a typical time frame) the CTSCs must be well prepared to manage the transition to private business. Alternatively, publicly supported CTSCs can be considered a long-term aid programme for remote regions which is both cost-effective (because many different public service may be concentrated at a CTSC) and stimulating for local indigenous development.

· to combine financial support with other types of help, for example by providing management training courses to CTSC managers, establishing relevant databases for the network of CTSCs, etc.

· to provide continuous and easy accessible support to CTSCs, for example by establishing an electronic help-desk function for CTSCs.

· to avoid looking at a CTSC programme as an isolated activity. Such programmes must be integrated with telecommunication development programmes as well as with programmes for development of agriculture, local business, education, etc.

In addition, recent experiences from Germany and the UK indicate that is vital to establish some kind of national association of CTSCs. In these countries such associations have been extremely beneficial in stimulating the CTSC development, and it seems that they well suited to support self-reliance. However, it remains to be seen whether they can better avoid the crisis which normally seems to come after 3-4 years of CTSC activities.

2.6. Financial Viability

Of the 65 CTSCs represented in the CTSC survey, 36 (55.4%) are private CTSCs (including as well business driven CTSCs as community organized centres, both often publicly supported) and 29 (44.6%) are public CTSCs (normally run by local or regional public authorities such as the local school, library, or town hall).

Table 7: Initiator, sources of finance and ownership (N=65 CTSCs)





Initiator 44% 56%  
Initial financing 17% 53% 30%
Financ. source 1992 19% 29% 52%
Ownership 1993 55% 45%  

As can be seen from table 7, even though a majority of the CTSCs are privately owned, a majority was started through a public initiative, a majority were initially financed publicly, and a majority received their income in 1992 from either public or mixed public and private sources. However, this is not necessarily a result of direct support, but may be due to indirect support; often, CTSCs sell services to public authorities, for example through running computer classes which are supported by the national department of education or by local or regional educational authorities.

Regarding the financial viability, 50% of the CTSCs indicate that 1992 balanced economically. 27.5% say that 1992 yielded a profit, while 22.5% say that 1992 resulted in a deficit.

2.7. Estimated Contribution to Social Development

As the last question in the questionnaire, the CTSC representatives were asked to evaluate the impact of their telecentre on the local community. There were four possibilities: big impact (4), average impact (3), small impact (2) and no impact (1).

Table 8: Impact on local community (from 1: No impact to 4: Big impact) (N=65 CTSCs)





Economic 2.26 2.32 2.29
Employment 1.98 2.47 2.20
Education 2.54 3.40 2.90
Culture 2.07 2.42 2.22
Social Services 2.24 2.37 2.30


This is obviously a very subjective assessment of the social and economic impact, and it needs to be complemented with detailed case-studies. Still, it is evident that the educational role of the CTSCs in the local community is the most significant one for as well private as public CTSCs. It is also interesting to note that the public CTSCs assess their role in a more positive way than the private CTSCs. This may be a result of the fact that private centres have to consider their own business, while the public centres are legitimated through their support to the local community. While the public centres do not differentiate between their economic, employment, cultural and social services impact, there is a clear difference for the private centres. Next to education they see themselves as playing a role for the local economy and for social services, while they estimate to have little impact on local employment and culture.

3. Rural Development and Telecommunications

3.1. The Necessity of Rural Development Projects

"The trend towards a mono culture is as dangerous for a society as it would be for an ecological system. A mono culture cannot innovate, because it cannot see alternative ways and goals." (Rolf Jensen, Director of the Danish Institute of Future Research, 1993)

It seems that telecommunication projects are popping up in remote areas all over the world. However, such activities don't develop automatically. Both initial and follow-up support is needed.

But why is it, after all, necessary to support the remote regions? Why not just concentrate on the cities as centres of economic, social and cultural development? Examples from Scandinavia and from the rest of rural Europe may illustrate the problem.

The dominating problems of rural society in the Scandinavian countries are the problems created by economic centralisation. As an example, in Denmark this problem is especially felt by the agricultural sector. In 1950, 465,000 people were employed by this sector with more than 200,000 farms. In 1980 the employment figure was only 160,000. Today, in Denmark there are some 70,000 farms left, half of which are owned and run by people with another main occupation, leaving only 30,000 full time farms. The total employment figure in the agricultural sector is approximately 100,000. With 30,000 farms spread over the total rural area in Denmark, many traditional functions in the small villages (local shops, craftsmen, schools, public libraries, post offices, etc.) will disappear. This, again, means that one has to attract jobs and businesses to the rural areas.

According to the EEC Bulletin The future of rural society, this is a general European - and, with few modifications, a global - problem. Everywhere in the European community, rural society is undergoing radical changes. The total utilized agricultural area is being reduced, the number of farms and people employed in agriculture is declining, and there is a tendency towards polarization between large farms and very small farms.

Consequently, the problem of rural society is a challenge to all European societies. But the problems outlined are not just problems for the rural regions, they are of a more general societal nature. For our rural areas are not "just" places where people live and work. They have vital functions for society as a whole. Here our provisions are produced, here our ecological equilibrium is maintained, and here our cultural identity is based. A society without its thousands of rural village communities would be fundamentally different. Also from an urban perspective the effects of rural society is important. Often, the biggest social problems are consequences of the concentration of people in deprived urban and sub-urban regions, and one way to tackle these problems is to make life in rural communities more attractive from a social and economic perspective.

This means that the countryside must be preserved. Not just as agricultural production areas or as recreational areas, but as areas with a multitude of business and cultural possibilities based on the social structure of village communities. Consequently, one has to support the existing farms with services and training, one has to attract new jobs and businesses to the rural areas, and one has to maintain the variety of private and public services. This is vital, not just to "preserve" the rural society, but to reproduce the social complexity, thus counteracting the trend toward a monoculture.

3.2. Why telecommunications?

This dominating and irreversible concentration of agricultural business and of economic and social activities in general means that the future of rural society very much depends on the diversification of rural economies. One has to attract small and medium-sized enterprises to the rural communities.

But experience has shown that the attraction of small and medium-sized enterprises is hampered by difficulties which are not only a matter of their small size and lack of resources, but which are also a matter of such factors as geographical and socio-cultural distance from markets and decision-centres, lack of easy access to information, lack of appropriate services (public services, training programmes, etc.), lack of training facilities for the workforce, and lack of links with other firms.

Of course one has to take a number of different political initiatives if one wants to solve the problems of rural society, and access to high quality telecommunication services is only one of the multitude of answers. Still, however, telecommunication is important: good telecommunication facilities will diminish the distance from decision-centres, will increase the amount of accessible information, will support the availability of services and training and will help to re-establish the missing link to distant firms and markets.

3.3. Telecommunications - a Necessary, but not a Sufficient Precondition for Rural Development

Will telecommunications automatically lead to stimulation of the rural economy, of the employment situation and of socio-cultural conditions in rural communities?

In my opinion the answer is: No, not automatically. Even though telecommunications are a necessary precondition for rural development, it is not a sufficient precondition. In some cases, telecommunications may even become counter-productive in relation to the intended objectives. In 1985 professor Cees Hamelink in his paper "Selling the Canoe without the Paddle" pointed out that it is too optimistic to believe that new and better social structures will automatically be created or local economies of relatively isolated rural regions will be strengthened just by introducing new information technology. It must be kept in mind that telecommunications are a means for two-way communications. It may help a small rural enterprise to increase sales abroad, but it certainly also enables foreign firms to penetrate the local rural markets.

An example from the USA can illustrate the problem: the penetration of fast food chains at the cost of local restaurants has been partly based on the availability of good telecommunications facilities, because such chains depend on co-ordinated goods delivery, centralised economic administration etc. Here, telecommunications have been a tool for competing the local rural economy and for changing the local cultural habits. Similarly, rural branches of national or international banks are processing most of their economic transactions in centralized, automatized locations, thus eliminating jobs from many rural communities. Such examples suggest that the adoption of information technologies in rural communities is not a guarantee of economic growth or of strengthening of socio-cultural conditions. On the contrary, these technologies can, in the words of Dillman et al., as easily be used to ship jobs out of a community as to bring them in.

Recently, W. H. Melody once more emphasized that it is both superficial and counterproductive to think that economic development and social benefit will automatically be achieved if new information and communication technologies are introduced into less developed regions.

But of course it is just as superficial to conclude that telecommunication and information technology in themselves have the opposite consequence, i.e. that they lead to economic and social centralisation. The important lesson to be drawn from the above examples is that rural teleservices must be organized and provided in such a way that they support the rural communities instead of giving large, external companies a competitive advantage over local interests. Experience shows that one way to organize teleservices in a way which is beneficial for indigenous development of rural regions is through CTSCs. In the following section this argument will be elaborated.

4. CTSCs: a more efficient Utilization and Distribution of Teleservices

4.1. The Uneven Distribution of Teleservices

Statistics collected by the ITU and others provide indisputable evidence of the poor or complete lack of access to even basic telephony in rural regions of the developing world. In 1984, the Independent Commission for the world-wide telecommunication development in its report The Missing Link emphasized that even though the world telecommunication network at that time served 600 million telephones (instruments), more than half of the world's population lived in countries with fewer than 10 million telephones, most of which were in the main cities, making the situation of remote regions of developing countries particularly bad. As a result, the report documented that two-thirds of the world population had no access to telephone services at all.

In order to prepare the present document, the analysis of statistics regarding access to teleservices has been updated. Even though some progress has been made, the situation outlined in The Missing Link report has not improved significantly since 1984. Still, the lack of teleservices in the developing world is serious. Looking at world statistics on the penetration of telephones (main lines), in 1990 we had the following situation:

Table 9: Global Telecom Penetration 1990

Region Main Lines per 100 population

a) Regions dominated by developing countries

Africa 1.34
Central America 5.47
Caribbean 7.63
South America 6.44
Asia (excl. Middle East) 3.13
Middle East 7.20
Ex-USSR countries 13.23

b) Regions dominated by developed countries

North America 54.79
Europe 32.27
Pacific 35.87

The total number of telephones (main lines) in 1990 was about 600 millions in the world. The potential demand has been studied using the socio-economic method mentioned in the ITU-TS (former CCITT) manual GAS 10. Assuming that the demand is saturated when all households have a telephone and adding 25%, representing the demand of business telephones (a value based on statistics) we arrive at a potential demand of between 1400 and 1500 million lines, i.e. about 8-900 million more lines in the world than have been established today. This figure is based on 1990 statistics; still, the world population grows, and adding to that, as time goes on this "saturation value" will increase as family sizes decrease by increasing wealth of the family and there will be more users having more than one telephone per household.

4.2. The Network Barrier and the Role of CTSCs

In many parts of the world, and particularly in remote regions, the basic barrier of getting access to telephony and to other teleservices is the lack of telephone lines within acceptable distance. When ITU in 1984-85 presented the Report The Missing Link to the world, it drew attention to the above-mentioned facts and formulated the objective (or hope) that "by the early part of the next century all mankind would be brought within easy reach of a telephone".

Reflecting this objective, many developing countries have prepared plans for extension of their networks. However, instead of aiming at reaching every single household, often the more realistic objective to give access to teleservices to bigger social units has been articulated. For example, India formulated the objective to have a telephone in each village by the year 2000.

It is obvious to suggest that the concept of CTSCs be integrated in such network plans. Not only can the CTSC function as the common access point, but in addition more advanced services can be provided through the CTSC, thus getting higher advantages from the telephone network.

To establish a CTSC in a rural area which has not yet been provided with any form of telecommunication service will require the addition of a transmission link which connects the CTSC with the national telecommunication network. Thus, in such regions the building of CTSCs must be carefully integrated into the general long-term network planning activity.

If more advanced services are needed at the CTSCs, these centres may need to be connected to high quality transmission circuits, including data communication networks, which most existing analogue networks will not support. In the overall network planning, the benefits of giving big sections of the population communal access to a wider variety of teleservices at the CTSCs must be compared with the higher network costs.

However, today several options can be considered, such as using a VSAT connection (which is not distance dependent of costs), or using fixed circuits on cellular radio systems, point-to-point digital radio link systems or combining fibre optic cable transmission on rural power distribution routes. All these systems are now available as solutions to reach rural areas at reasonable costs, and the costs for such equipment are continuing to go down (as an example, today a VSAT terminal costs about US $ 10,000).

When planning for CTSCs in remote areas, the overall planning of future telecom services in the areas concerned should be considered both at the short-term and long-term basis. Planning the future CTSCs and rural exchanges should be part of the long-term strategy for development of the national long-distance network. Particularly, it may be necessary to speed up with temporary solutions, e.g. using a VSAT connection to precede the physical implementation of a national transmission system. Once the national system is there, the VSAT terminal (or fixed cellular radio, or other temporary solution) can be moved to another place, and used again.

The general conclusion to the network barrier is, however, that if there will be any chance of providing teleservices world-wide also to the rural and low-income areas, the use of communal services seem to be an answer that make teleservices available for most of the people who live in rural areas or who can not afford paying for individual services. The answer to the network problem may thus be that even though individual connection to the network is not always possible in less-favoured regions, as for example in rural villages, it might still be possible to provide access to teleservices at one single place in such a village - i.e. at a CTSC.


4.3. Additional Barriers

In addition to the fundamental network barrier there are however also other barriers to benefiting fully from the wide range of existing teleservices which will be briefly discussed below.

The service barrier: Even though the connection to the telephone network has been established, the variety of services available is sometimes limited, and the teleservices available are very often based on the demands of the urban population, and are not related to the demands of rural citizens. For example in England the new value added network services are dominated by advanced services with relevance for example to the finance sector in London, but with less relevance to small industries in rural communities.

The cost barrier: For a small farm or a small, family-based enterprise, computers, including software, technical support, continuous upgrading etc. are still quite costly, and the cost of access and of teleservice terminals is often too high for infrequent users to justify individual connection.

The qualification barrier: Still, skill requirements for using computer programs are high, and are not always met by people in the rural regions, where the general attitude to new IT is very often quite sceptical.

Not all these barriers are met by teleservices per se, but some of them are better met by teleservices provided at CTSCs.

Providing not only telephone services, but also relevant computer-based services such as access to databases, to distance training courses, etc. through the CTSC contributes to reducing the service barrier. Furthermore, within a CTSC context these services can be better oriented towards specific local needs.

Providing the rural community inhabitants with communal access to IT equipment by means of a CTSC contributes to reducing the cost barriers, either through public provision of these services or through cost sharing arrangements.

Finally, integrating distance learning and local training courses as well as advisory services into the activities of the CTSCs contributes to reducing the qualification barrier. Here, the presence of a CTSC manager is particularly important.

4.4. The Potential Global Demand for CTSCs

A detailed assessment of the potential global demand for community teleservice centres that would satisfy a large part of the people living in rural areas and/or living in low-income areas, rural or urban, has been made for this report, based primarily on statistical material from ITU, UNESCO, and UPU.

Statistics on the world-wide number of post offices for rural and urban areas have also been analysed. Using the available statistics on postal services, it is estimated that a CTSC centre would be required per 10,000 population.

The potential demand in different regions of the world of community teleservice centres is shown in the table below.

Table 10: The potential global demand for CTSCs (each covering 10,000 population)


Demand of CTSCs

Urban & Rural



Central America




North America


South America


Asia (excl. Middle East)


Middle East






Ex-USSR countries


World Total:


In addition, the estimated number of CTSCs for the countries with the more important potential demands for such centres has been identified. In the graphs below, the regions Africa, Asia and South America are shown as examples:



If a world-wide effort were to be made to implement such community teleservice centres, it may be estimated that the demand of CTSCs would represent investments of the order of tenths of billions of
US dollars. Considering that one centre will cost between US$ 50,000 and 200,000 to implement, and knowing that one centre will reach about 10,000 persons (average), each centre represents an investment of 5-20 US$ per person.

A project of this scale should be initiated by pilot projects in each country, like what is actually already being done in a number of countries. An outline of such a pilot project is provided in section 5 below.

4.5. Conclusion

In conclusion of this section, the establishment of CTSCs in less-favoured rural and sub-urban communities seems to be a very cost-effective solution which allows teleservices to be brought deep into the countryside and to provide not only telephone services for public use but also other telecommunication and data services, as may be required in the specific community. In particular, the fact that a teleservice centre is run by a trained, competent person, the CTSC manager, means that the centre provides much better service to the public than would an isolated coin box or pay phone or a computer terminal owned by an individual local enterprise.

5. CTSC - a Vision

5.1. CTSCs in Developing Countries

No doubt, CTSC will play an important role in many different contexts, from providing training facilities in remote regions to giving social support in low-income urban areas. So far, most CTSCs have been established in industrialized countries. However, in my opinion the most important function of CTSCs in the years to come will be their support for developing countries. Currently, the best empirical evidence regarding the role of CTSCs for economic, social and cultural development in this context is Brazil, which was the first developing country that implemented CTSCs. Also in other respects the project in Brazil can serve as inspiration and as a reference model for CTSC projects in developing countries. Consequently, in this final section I have tried to outline the potential future contribution of CTSCs for development by combining current trends in Brazil with the global demand estimates presented in section 4 above.

5.2. CTSCs in Brazil

In 1990, a delegation from the Brazilian telephone company, Telebras, visited a number of the Nordic CTSCs, and immediately after the visit the concept was "translated" into the Brazilian context, and a development plan was elaborated, starting with a pilot project phase which should then lead into the full implementation of CTSCs in all the 26 Brazilian states. Based on the current administrative division of Brazil at the municipal level with 4,500 municipalities and 8,900 districts, i.e. 13,400 administrative units, and on experience with 22,000 already existing Brazilian so-called "service posts" (centres with coin boxes, telephone services, etc.), the final goal is to establish approximately 13,000 CTSCs, i.e. a figure close to the statistical estimate presented above (cf. table 11).

During 1992 and 1993 the first four pilot CTSCs have been built in:

· Brusque, in Santa Catarina

· Toledo, in Paraná

· Mossoró, in Rio Grande do Norte

· Juazeiro do Norte, in Ceará.


Even though the Brazilian CTSCs have used the Nordic telecentres as their model of inspiration, in many respects they are different. The pilot CTSCs are run by the telephone company, while the services are provided by independent public or private entities. Thus, the ownership model can best be described as an association of partners with governmental support. Furthermore, the centres are bigger than the normal European CTSCs (in average the Brazilian centres cover an area of 450-500 m2), and they provide a wider range of services and a larger number of potential users than do most similar centres in Europe. As an example, the first pilot centre supports the 60,000 inhabitants town of Brusque with access to:

· telephone boxes

· public services (water supply, electricity, sewerage, and tax service, etc.)

· computer training

· business advice

· access to office facilities (computers, office rooms, telefax etc.)

· access to database services

· etc.

Thus, the CTSC organizers have succeeded in attracting most public authorities in order to support their jointly used CTSC to mutual benefit.

As a result of the services offered, and of the general social and economic situation, the number of users has been much higher than what has normally been achieved in European centres. As an example, the average number of users from October 1992 to August 1993 in the telecentre in Brusque was 668 visitors per month. Recent information suggests that the number of users has increased to an even higher level, mentioning several hundred users per week.

In September 1993 an international seminar on management of CTSCs was held with participants from several Latin American countries with a general view to transferring the experience, and with the specific aim to train future CTSC managers. Again, experience from the Nordic CTSCs was combined with analyses of the specific local conditions, and during the seminar management models and business strategies meeting local needs were elaborated.

For 1994, Telebras has planned 24 additional pilot telecentres, i.e. one per state operating telephone company. In addition, five more urban telecentres have been planned in Santa Catarina, and four in Paraná, and a network of rural telecentres in the district of Toledo, served by the centre which is already in operation, is being prepared. These 35-40 centres are then expected to function as reference models for the future establishment of CTSCs, aiming at the above-mentioned total of 13,000 centres in the beginning of the next century.

The total implementation costs of the existing CTSCs in Brazil have been around US$ 70,000 per centre.

5.3. Future Global Perspectives

As indicated earlier in this document, the estimated global demand for CTSCs is approximately 500,000 CTSCs. Based on existing experiences, a project of this scale should be initiated by pilot projects in every country, similar to the projects which have already been launched or which are being planned in a number of countries. A pilot project would start with a number of centres that should usually not be less than 4-5 centres in a country, and which should not exceed 1% of the estimated potential need (in Brazil, the number of pilot centres represent 0.3% of the estimated total need). This would typically imply about 4-20 centres per country, with exception for China and India, depending on the size of the country and the variety of population structures and activities.

Based on estimations for individual countries, a world-wide project, covering the pilot phase, would in total require about 1260 CTSCs, approximately distributed by region as:

· Asia 530

· Africa 330

· Americas 220

· Ex-USSR 90

· Europe 90

· Total 1260

Such a project could be implemented during a number of years, say 5-10, during which period also the training of CTSC managers will be an important factor. It should be possible to benefit from the experiences gradually being developed in the countries where CTSCs have been or are being implemented. Thus, it could grow into a project where extensive support could come also from the developing countries, where such centres have been implemented early.

Considering that a CTSC costs between US $ 50,000 and 200,000 to implement, a world-wide pilot project would require investments of US $ 60-250 million. Once these pilot projects have been implemented, the countries will continue to build additional centres, according to their long-term plans and based on available financial resources.

However, such a broad development programme could probably only be catalyzed by an inter-governmental organization like the ITU, and would need the support of many development partners, including the private sector. Furthermore, a global network among CTSCs, including access to help desk service, access to common information, creation of a mutual, dynamic good practice database, etc. would enhance the sustainability of such developments.

5.4. CTSCs - a Contribution for an Alternative Future

Experience shows that CTSCs contribute to counteracting the geographically determined disadvantages of rural regions by making teleservices available for local communities, thus enhancing business opportunities, educational and social facilities, health care services etc. But CTSCs are not just defensive tools for rural areas. They have also a visionary dimension. Instead of concentrating economic, social and cultural activities in the cities, such activities should also exist in the rural communities. Instead of restricting the functions of the countryside into being the industrial regions' recreational areas, a multiplicity of agricultural, entrepreneurial, social and recreational possibilities should be available in the rural environment. Instead of specializing geographical regions, making them either purely industrial, or agricultural, or holiday zones, social and economic diversification within each region should be catalyzed. Instead of individualizing new information technology with computer-assisted home working etc. in the private homes, these information and communication tools should be offered for co-operative activities.

Telecommunications should not standardize the different geographical regions, making rural communities small copies of urban communities. Telecommunications should make it possible for people to stay in their unique rural region. The aim is to limit the inequalities, not the varieties.


I wish to thank all CTSC associations and public institutions as well as CTSC managers who have very kindly provided me with information for this analysis within a limited time schedule. Particularly I want to thank Dr. Lars Engvall, chairman of CTSC International, who has not only provided me with data regarding the estimation of the current and future need for CTSCs world-wide, but who through his work has inspired me to understand the basic idea and importance of Commun.

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