|Chapter 5: Ensuring Sustainability and Impact through Appropriate
Services and Content
There is currently a trend toward vertical specialization in some categories of telecenters, for example, telecenters specifically for health information or e-Governance. This kind of specialization will probably shift away from specialized telecenters to a specialization in specific services to be delivered through any variety of telecenter. In many cases the current trend is driven by necessity—if a country wants to make e-Government services available to its citizens, it has little choice but to create access points to accomplish that. Once generalized access is more widely available, one would expect those services to adjust themselves to a mode of delivery suitable for a general public access point, and to move away from the added expense of a vertical network of access points.
Somewhat tautologically, the collective history of the telecenter movement has been for concentration of services—telecenters rely on a number of computers in a staffed facility where face-to-face support can be offered to inexperienced users. We can expect to see the movement begin to incorporate a trend to de-concentration as well, since the center notion carries with it certain intrinsic limitations. The early notion of telecenters was spawned when computer literacy was rare, power and connectivity were major limiting factors, and the notions of virtual community and access to massive quantities of information were in their infancy. It was logical to address these constraints by putting the rare resources in a single place where they could be managed, and where the traditional mode of face-to-face support for computer help and community development could be accomplished.
As time passes, we can expect to see users more comfortable with membership in virtual communities, more capable with electronic or asynchronous communication via e-mail or chat, and more likely to be integrating ICT into their daily lives. Their needs will change from the occasional “event” usage of ICT where they have to have a big need before they would travel to a center and access information, to a “routine” use, where they would stop by a neighborhood store to use an un-staffed single computer to send e-mail, place a quick VoIP call, and check commodity prices while doing their errands. We are already beginning to see the more commercially oriented centers establish such outlying access points by using WiFi or point-to-point wireless modems to enable a connected kiosk to be placed in (for example) the checkout area of a grocery store, or the common area in a pharmacy, just as we have seen photocopy machines appear in the same types of places in a previous technology adoption cycle. The “de-centralized” machines usually require a prepaid account, and when a user logs in to use the unstaffed machine, the charges are automatically deducted from their account.