My name is Sandra Roberts, I work with a project designed to support ICT
initiatives in the SADC (Southern African Development community) region.
We are represented currently in 12 of the 13 countries in SADC and have
nodal points in Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa.

Recently we conducted research on telecentres in SADC.  Here are my
answers to the questions.


> 1. Are high-bandwidth connections necessary, or even important, to
> making a real impact on development? Or are the costs and problems
> inherent in establishing such connectivity too high -- and unsustainable
> -- for underserved areas?

Connectivity costs in Africa are too high, whether it is in urban or
underserved rural areas.  High bandwidth connections largely a dream in
many areas.  Also importantly there is not enough support for individual
telecentres who are often in very isolated areas.

> 2. Are there cases that demonstrate the value of low-bandwidth (e.g.,
> store-and-forward email, packet radio) solutions to provide critical
> information access to under-served communities? How successful have they
> been?

> 3. Can information distribution centers (e.g., public access
> telecenters) offer a viable economic solution to a community's
> information needs, by, in effect, sharing a single high-bandwidth
> connection among many users, and thus spreading the cost?

Telecentres and community multimedia centres have not fared very well in
Africa, this is due, in part to exorbitant connection costs, but also
because they need dynamic leadership. Management and technological
skills, yes, but leadership which is adaptive to the various conditions
which a telecentre/ CMC will face during its lifespan.  Unfortunately
practical barriers include high staff turn over - people with the skills
to run telecentres could get relatively high paying jobs elsewhere, and
have more security than telecentres can offer.

The practical reality is that many telecentres are donor dependent and
have no plans to become self sustaining, or possibly have plans and
haven't implemented them.

So, yes, they can, but practically they often don't.

> 4. Are there new protocols that make more efficient use of the bandwidth
> that is available? For example, what role can the newer wireless
> technologies (e.g. Wi-Fi, MESH networks) play in bringing sufficient
> connectivity to underserved communities? Are the costs and maintenance
> demands of these technologies sustainable?

New technologies require new skills sets and new support mechanisms.
They should be adopted, but possibly not immediately as soon as the
technologies are available.  I think universities should be key in
experimenting with new technologies and slowly developing plans for
incorporation into their countries.

Please look at our site, it will be launched on the 17 November 2003.

Sandra Roberts
Research and Information Coordinator
CINSA Project
Tel: 27 11 838 6943/4
Fax: 27 11 492 1058

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