Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Tele-Centres as Local Institutions: Present Landscape in Nepal

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Tele-Centres as Local Institutions: Present Landscape in Nepal

Article excerpt

A 2010 message from Dr. Hamadoun I. Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) marking five years since the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, included the following:

In today's world, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a profound effect on most socio-economic, political and cultural aspects of society; they have become indispensable tools in the implementation of national development plans in many countries, supporting their efforts to secure the welfare and prosperity of their citizens. Yet, the prevalence of digital divisions worldwide hinders the application of ICT capabilities in areas vital for development, such as agriculture, health and education, impeding progress towards the achievement of an inclusive digital society (International Telecommunication Union [ITU], 2010b, p. iii).

The notion of ICTs as vital 'tools' in the implementation of development initiatives has been taking root not only in promoting the goals of the Millennium Declaration but also in implementing national government initiatives that support those goals. In Nepal, where mountainous terrain, low literacy rates and limited resources pose major barriers to access to information, use of ICTs as a tool for achieving national development goals has brought with them great hopes. One of the major channels adopted by Nepal to bridge the digital divide is through establishment of multipurpose community tele-centres (hereafter, Tele-centres). Nepal's commitment to provide wider access to information for rural populations is reflected in the Tenth Five-Year Development Plan (2002-2007), the national development plan document of Nepal which states plans to establish 1500 Tele-centres in rural areas of Nepal ("Rural Tele-centres", n.d., para. 2).

The origin of Tele-centres can be traced back to the 1980s when Scandinavian countries started providing shared access to office equipments in rural areas aiming to include rural areas in the information economy (Colle, 2010). In the following decade, many international organisations including the ITU, UNESCO, World Bank along with other development agencies promoted initiatives providing public access to computers and networks (Colle,

2010). The 1990s was also a time when Tele-centres tended to be isolated pilot projects primarily funded by donor agencies. The Tele-centre initiatives during the decade of 2000s is marked by characteristics including the emergence of Tele-centre networks, increased involvement from the government, academia and the private sector, and improvement in the policy and regulatory environment of many countries where Tele-centre operate (Fillip & Foote, 2007). The trajectory of Tele-centre development in Nepal mirrors the current international trend in that there is a momentum towards moving beyond piloting Tele-centres to using them as one of the key local institutions promoting development.

In this paper, Tele-centre refers mainly to those establishments that "tend to be in the public sector, are operated by government bodies or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), serve a low-income clientele, and have a community development mission" (Colle, 2009). However, in the current context of Nepal, many of the Tele-centres also share the properties of Internet Access Points (IAPs) due to their primary focus on internet use and information seeking. Besides those Tele-centres rolled out and supported by the High Level Commission on Information Technology (HLCIT) that are called Rural Information Centers, other forms in which Tele-centres exist in Nepal include Tele-centres based in schools, those that combine radio broadcasting and those that use multiple media beyond radio for community development. The number of Tele-centres is bound to grow in the near future with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) aiming to establish a total of 114 Tele-centres in 38 districts of Nepal as part of the Information and Community Technology Development Project by 2014 (UNESCAP, 2009). …

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