Initial remarks: the Moderator's question does not contain a definition
of "profit"; it might be a monetary return on invested capital, it might
be an excess over pure operation-costs, it might be equal to the
operation costs but those who use the offered ICT-services do better by
using those services.

Second remark: we made a large comparative study on Telecenters in
Nicaragua and do continous monitoring and -except in very special
settings like schools- we didn't observe any significant difference in
services offered, prices charged and people attending, between
supposedly "for profit" and supposedly "non-profit" Telecenters.

Third remarks:

(1) Unfortunately ICT-services are not free -like air- someone has to
provide them and someone has to pay those who provide them.

(2) Costs to be covered are the use of communication-infrastructure, the
personel involved in bringing the service, the replacement of equipment
and consumables, the place (or the rent for it), the energy used.

(3) It turns out that 1 years full operation-costs (including
depreciation for equipment replacement) in many cases comes already
close to the initial investment-costs or even exceeds them.

(4) The current trend -look at Cellular phones and their business model
or Ink-jet printers- for communication-technology makes that initial
investment become more and more irrelevant compared to operation-costs.

(5) Hence the whole question boils down to "who pays" and "how" (and to
a certain degree "why") and specifically the operation-costs.

Fourth remark: if -as in some cases- philanthropic initial donors also
cover the operation-costs -mostly they don't- still the question is
whether donors should be encouraged to spend on ICT or is the money
better spent on other more important issues. If it is claimed that
Governments -either donors or local- should cover these costs, the
question becomes even more important. The only reason might be that ICT
is more effective than other means to fight poverty (or it's a basic
requirement to achieve those other means). Generalized hard evidence is

Fifth remark: if there is no substantial gain for "beneficiaries" -i.e.
they are truly better off with ICT than without or ICT provides
essential services at lower costs -then there is no reason to spend on
ICT- neither for them nor for anyone else. This depends on a case by
case analysis -and unfortunately this analysis in many, many instances
is not done, neither before nor after.

Sixth remark: A telecenter -or whatever other type of ICT-service-
without a sound business-model with respect to the above ... shouldn't
even be started.

Seventh remark: We found -and there are other examples in the
literature- that non-benefactor Telecenters (i.e. those either started
"for profit" or by the beneficiaries themselves) had in general more
sound business-models than those mounted "for benefit" (i.e. by any type
of Benefactors, public, private, NGOs).

Corollary: "self interest" -some times expressed in terms of
profit-expectations- is a necessary requirement for sustainability.


This DOT-COM Discussion is funded by USAID's dot-ORG Cooperative
Agreement with AED, in partnership with World Resources Institute's
Digital Dividend Project, and hosted by GKD. and
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