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Multipurpose community telecentres
From pilot initiatives to viable projects
Multipurpose community telecentres
photo credit: ITU/Bastidas-Buch
The Montaña Grande MCT
 
Multipurpose community telecentres
Photo credit: ITU/Bastidas-Buch
Children enjoy surfing the Internet at the telecentre

It has been more than ten years since ITU’s Area Office for Central America began its first pilot project to establish telecentres in this region. Since then, we have gained vast experience in setting up these facilities, which are now more widely known as multipurpose community telecentres (MCT). They have brought telephone and Internet services to remote villages, as well as the potential for distance learning and telemedicine.

Initially, a wide spectrum of pilot initiatives flourished in all developing countries, but after ten years, an evaluation of the different models revealed that not all the telecentres have survived. The concept of sustainability has now been widened to include economic, technical, administrative, and political aspects.

Achieving sustainability

Telecentres are built around the concept of a one-stop facility where the user finds not only reliable national and international telecommunications, but also a basic set of such services as faxes, sending and receiving e-mail, Internet access, document printing, technical expertise and training. Solar energy, satellite communications, new technologies, and a drop in prices for setting up local area networks have enhanced the technical viability of telecentres.

Governments embraced the concept of telecentres and economic resources became available from both the public and private sectors that enabled these facilities to be established. However, the real challenge has been to keep telecentres working on a self-sustainable and permanent basis.

Another matter that had to be addressed was building the capacity of local experts to operate and maintain MCT. Training was the solution for technical and administrative sustainability. At the same time, groups of individuals in communities were trained to manage their telecentres. In Honduras, rural communities across the country were soon taking on this management responsibility.

It was several years before it became clear that political issues were also affecting the sustainability of telecentres. In some cases, where a new government was not in agreement with the social policies of the former one, MCT were declared to be a failed initiative. Trained administrative and technical personnel at telecentres were replaced by newly elected governments and all the training and experience was lost. As a solution, it was deemed important to begin basing telecentres on self-management by their communities, rather than relying on government support. This was the case with the Montaña Grande Multipurpose Community Telecentre, in the rugged terrain of southern Honduras.

The Montaña Grande MCT

The Montaña Grande MCT was established in 2007 and from the beginning it was planned to be managed by the rural community it serves, with no government involvement. It uses solar energy to power a local area network of four computers, a laser printer, a television set, multimedia equipment, and a telecommunication link using Wi-fi technologies carrying both voice and data. The telecentre is managed by a group of young villagers and provides several services to the community, including e-mail and Internet access for all students. The charges for all services and the use of the facilities are affordable for the local community, and the management group is planning to replace the first computers using their own resources.

Keeping the Montaña Grande MCT locally managed since it opened has maintained its viability in the community — and it continues to grow. As a result, the village of Montaña Grande, located in the foothills of a beautiful mountain, is supported in its production of more than 30 per cent of the vegetables consumed in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, while new technologies provide telecommunications and other benefits for the community and businesses. This MCT is a good example of how we keep working to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

* This article was contributed by the ITU Central American Office. For more information, please contact Roberto Bastidas-Buch (roberto.bastidas@itu.int).

 

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