Govt telecentres battle against costs

By Stephen Whitford, ITWeb contributor
Johannesburg, 06 Aug 2003

The Department of Communications` Universal Service Agency (USA) says government telecentres intended to help bridge the digital divide are engaged in an uphill battle to stay in operation.

Joshua Manamela, USA provincial coordinator, says high electricity bills and telephone accounts make it difficult for telecentres to continue providing a service to rural areas. In addition, telecentre managers tend to move on to private sector jobs once they have been trained.

"Since 1997, the USA has established 70 telecentres in rural areas, of which 26 have had to be closed because they are not financially viable," he says.

Manamela says telecentres are established in rural areas where teledensity (the number of people per 100 households who have access to a landline with) is less than 0.5%. Members of the community pay a minimal fee for using a telecentre`s facilities.

"However, the problem is that the community often does not see the need for using the Internet or the telecentre. As a result, once the USA has provided funds for the establishment of the telecentre, it battles to become self-sufficient," he says.

The USA is seeking to focus on educating communities about the benefits of having a telecentre and Manamela says the agency is hoping to reopen the telecentres that have been closed, or relocate them to other areas.

He says telecentres benefit where companies assist them with telephone costs or electricity bills.

One of the telecentres to receive assistance is the Siyabonga telecentre in Orange Farm, which has been equipped with subsidised broadband Internet access and document processing equipment.

Manamela says the telecentre was given 10 computers by Boeing at the beginning of the year, which were equipped with software provided by Microsoft SA.

"With the help of Sentech, the Siyabonga telecentre has been further upgraded with broadband Internet access via satellite. The USA has also provided the telecentre with a photocopier, fax machine, scanner and printer," he says.