October 2006

Telecentres Movement in Nepal

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Lack of initiative on part of the implementing agency to create in the community a desire to see the project implemented, often results in the failure of the project, as the people do not identify with the intervention provided.

Introduction
Digital opportunities have emerged as a powerful tool for fostering agricultural growth, poverty reduction, health related issues, and sustainable resource use in developing countries. The Tenth Five Year Plan of Nepal has envisioned Nepal with rural telecentres in 1500 VDC (Village Development Committees). National Planning Commission (NPC) set this target realising the necessity of the establishment of a number of rural telecentres to develop rural areas in Nepal. The aim is to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by harnessing the potential of ICTs in development programmes. Telecentres in Nepal often focus on ICT and improving communication as the telephone density is extremely low (4 percent).

The telecentre will be able to demonstrate clearly the outcomes of deliverable of its efforts (e.g. number of computers provided, numbers of people trained, etc). Throughout recent years, a number of different types of telecentres have been established in developing countries, ranging from small phone shops to large Multipurpose Community Telecentres. They cater to different needs, require different amounts of capital, skills and human resources, and make a varying contribution to community development. In Nepal, Telecentres have been focussing on providing Internet and eMail access, providing ICT related training, telephone facility (wherever possible), office equipments such as cdRom, printer, and photocopy, etc.

An assessment of the movement
However, this movement is still at a nascent stage in Nepal. Ongoing insurgency, migration of native IT experts, poor physical infrastructure, inadequate communication infrastructure/ slow connectivity, under mortality, underrated emphasis on knowledge connectivity, unavailability of locally relevant content and services, and communication gap between government and people are  considered to be among the crucial challenges ahead. Knowledge revolution is not only about setting up telecentres but also to ensure that these are viable in the long run. Needs assessment study involves assessment of the requirements of the target community to see if services and information provided by the telecentre is relevant to local places and thus helps to ascertain the demand for, and willingness to use, these technologies and finally to identify the linkage of people to telecentres.

National Planning Commission is involved from the beginning in infrastructure build-up, however the  big set back was realised due to lack of appropriate funds. Nepal is a country with diverse geographical structure and providing connectivity through dial-up connections may not be always practical, such as in mountainous region. In such regions, use of alternative power such as solar power for connectivity purpose would be more appropriate and sustainable in the long run. In Nepal, most of the existing telecentres use dial-up connectivity; few use VSAT implementations for instance, telecentre in Okhaldhunga Mustang.

One of the inspiring initiatives is the one taken by the UNDP funded ICT4D project in Mustang District, whose dedication resulted in accessibility of Internet through wireless connectivity. UNDP has handed this project to Government of Nepal and it is looked after by High Level Commission for Information Technology. Now, computers and Internet access are provided in remotest part of the district and are mostly used by students and teachers residing there. This showcases interesting implementation in conditions where basic infrastructure does not exist. Similarly in Durgapur, Jhapa Telecentre, local people were able to browse the School Leaving Certificate examination  results that was posted on the Internet instantaneously. Had it not been the Internet, the people had to wait for at least 2 days to get the newspaper from the capital and see the results. This signifies an interesting development in the change in habit for getting the content whenever required. However, the Internet costs are still very high and an ordinary Nepali person cannot afford these costs.

Urgency to find adequate funding from the government agencies and organisations involved in the telecentre movement and especially to convince and encourage private sector investment is still acting as the biggest hurdle. Nepal’s IT policy includes a policy for creating conducive environment to attract private sector investment in the IT sector according to which it states; policy, legal, procedural reforms would be initiated to increase the participation of private sector in IT and venture capital fund will be encouraged in the IT sector. Legal provisions are still found weak and slow in process hindering speedy progress.

Need based centres
A database showing an exact number and location of existing telecentres in Nepal and how they have been operating and other details are still vague. According to the official figure, telecentres operated by Government of Nepal is 28; ranging from the foothills of the Himalayas to the smooth landscapes of the Terai region. Determining an appropriate location for a telecentre is important and should be done such that the telecentre is easily accessible to the local people for ensuring its full utilisation and so that it is easy to expand it at the minimum cost in future. Geographic Information System (GIS) Application for telecentre mapping can be an appropriate tool to precisely opt for the most appropriate location for a telecentre to be established, taking important criteria into consideration.

Though development projects are implemented with the sole motive of making a positive change in the lives of the communities, More often than not, the community is not consulted, and is left out of the project planning, development and implementation processes. Lack of initiative on part of the implementing agency to create in the community a desire to see the project implemented, often results in the failure of the project, as the people do not identify with the intervention provided. The diversity of information is an important issue to ensure that the values and experiences of local cultures and languages are preserved. The question is what the primary language used by the majority of people is and what for? With the advent of Nepali Windows XP and Office 2003 and Nepali Linux (Bhasha Sanchar at Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya), one barrier has been moved in bridging the existing digital divide between rural and urban areas of the country.

One of the remarkable initiatives taken by High Level Commission for Information Technology (HLCIT) is to form Rural Telecentre Coordination Committee for effective establishment, operation and management of telecentres. They link up several agencies working for rural development using ICTs. These include various initiatives of UNDP-RUPP (Rural Urban Partnership Programme) like working in co-ordination and partnership with FNCCI to build National B2B e-Commerce service of Nepal ‘Nepali e-Haat Bazaar’; establishing a telecentre in Tulsipur municipality and Attariya RMC. UNDP-RUPP initiated the dissemination of daily agricultural market price information (through www.agripricenepal.com) with the coordination from Agro Enterprise Centre (AEC)/ Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce & Industry and local CCIs; and established telecentres in

RUPP working municipalities and rural market centres with the coordination from Nepal Telecom Authority/ World Bank funded TSRP.

Conclusion
Effective utilisation of ICT has the potential to make the rural communities in Nepal prosperous. Failure to exploit benefits of ICT would make them isolated, victims of the vicious cycle of poverty and widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. The use of ICT should not be restricted to simply establishing information flow channels; rather there is a need to find a way to integrate it with the various livelihood needs (natural, social, human, physical and financial) of the rural community. The narrow ICT coverage is found to be financially and practically non-viable. Further, no single agency can deliver all these critical inputs. The entire process should be endorsed by a well organised network of human resources/ government/ organisations/ institutions, etc. Besides the public sector, the need for a proactive participation by the private sector, NGOs, government agencies and other civil society organisations is also important.

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