Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have embarked on government funded e-government and telecenter initiatives, with internet access at telecenters as a central delivery channel for e-Gov services. However, are telecenters still relevant in the delivery of citizen services and should they be subsidized by government? To answer this, a survey was conducted amongst 2,750 poor citizens, who have had a government interaction and who live within 5km of 275 randomly selected telecenters in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Higher awareness and use of telecenters was seen in Bangladesh, with 68 percent of the Bangladeshi sample having heard of the telecenter, and 52 percent having visited a telecenter and used its services. Telecenter awareness in the Sri Lankan sample was lower, at 46 percent, with usage even lower, at 16 percent amongst those who were aware. The study recommended having awareness campaigns aimed at the BOP who are the main target of telecenters be conducted in Sri Lanka. These campaigns should emphasize the types of services including government services that can be accessed at telecenters.
The survey showed that only 28 percent of telecenter users in Bangladesh used alternatives to telecenters (such as commercially run communication shops to access the internet and e-Gov services) while it was double that (56 percent) in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan BOP is better positioned to access online information and services independently, and may therefore need to rely less on shared access points like telecenters. This indicates that government investment can be optimized by not opening telecenters in areas where alternatives are available, but instead going to the most rural or poorest areas.
While use of telecenters for e-Gov was generally low, they were useful to citizens in obtaining information about government services, especially in Bangladesh where 71 percent of telecenter users said they accessed or obtained information on government services through information or contacts accessed at the telecenter. 38 percent of Bangladeshi survey respondents and 58 percent of Sri Lankan respondents were aware of the possibility of accessing government services via mobile phones with preference for voice based services. 52 percent in Bangladesh and 77 percent in Sri Lanka claimed they would like to use a mobile phone to obtain government information and to access government services by simply calling. Therefore, we recommend that Bangladesh set up a call center modelled after the Government Information Center in Sri Lanka that citizens can call and obtain information about how to apply for and access government services. This service will help reduce the number of repeated visits citizens currently make to government offices.
This study was conducted by LIRNEasia for the World Bank in 2012.