In an interesting post, that we recommend you read in full, Micheal Gurstein makes the case for telecenters despite the Nenasala debacle of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. Here is his key question: Or to put the question another way—what do we lose if we (or rural Sri Lankans) only have mobile communications with optional access to the Internet and we by-pass the personal computer completely? What happens if that becomes the communications paradigm for a range of countries such as Sri Lanka who, having not managed to effectively respond to the digital divide to this point, decide basically to give up the fight and leave it all to the ambitions and creativity of the mobile operators. We can say more, much more (and have, with more evidence than casual observation), but here is the comment I left on his blog: “Give up the fight and leave it all to the ambition and creativity of the mobile operators?” Well, isn’t that a smooth rhetorical move?
December 25 was just another working day at OnTime Technologies at Mahavilachchiya and things were going on at full throttle when I stepped-in to this rural BPO, arguably the first such initiative in Sri Lanka. Here is the good and bad news. Good news: The wheels are still in motion. Unlike most of the ICT4D projects (especially telecenters) that survive on donors’ oxygen, now it is self sustainable and taken seriously by the employees and villagers, who initially thought it would soon end. Employee turnover is low and what they do is seen as a career, rather than a pause till a better opportunity.
I took the first photo. That was in April 2008 in an informal telecenter visit. The second one appeared in a Sinhala blog recently. Mangedara Nenasala telecenter at Thulhiriya (less than 2 km from MAS Holdings) is one of the hundreds of defunct Nenasala telecenters. During better times it provided services such as utility bill payments and computer training.
Politicians are not known for strict adherence to truth, but I personally thought the Minister of Science and Technology Tissa Vitarana being a man of science was cut from different cloth. The first time he stated that the original telecenters set up under e Sri Lanka (Vishva Gnana Kendra or VGKs) were in urban areas and that after the government changed in 2004, the decision was taken to take them to rural areas (renamed as Nenasala), I blamed not him, but the flunkies at the ICT Agency who did not give him the true facts. None of the VGKs were in major urban centers, while some Nenasalas are in the centers of major cities (e.g., one inside the Dalada Maligawa premises and another inside the Natha Devalaya, in the heart of Kandy).
The looks may deceive, but this is a radio station. Prabhavi Community Radio – the first Internet community radio in Sri Lanka comes from Prabhavi Resources Center, Weranketagoda, Ampara – the post-conflict district in Eastern province (8 hours travel from Colombo). It operates from a Nenasala, one of the 500 odd telecenters funded by the World Bank under e-Sri Lanka program. A brainchild of Ajith Karunarathne, it runs as a nonprofit venture entirely by volunteers Asiri (red shirt, first photo) and his team. Strangely, this radio station connects to Internet thru a 128 kbps pipe.
Ambuluwawa, about 1,100 m above sea level, is probably the highest point in the vicinity of Gampola. Not surprisingly, all telecom operators exploit the geography. Transmission stations/towers encircle the summit. (See above) That is what one calls infrastructure. Just 10 km away, Sirimalwatte Ananda thero, a young and energetic Buddhist monk, runs a Nenasala, a telecenter established under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka program.
Here are the summarised results from the telecenter operator survey done by LIRNEasia at the weCan workshop in October 2008. Sample was not representative, but large enough to get a general idea about the telecenter operations in Sri Lanka. Out of a total of 147 operators surveyed, the bulk, 101 were from Nenasalas, the 500 odd telecenter network created under the World Bank funded e-Sri Lanka programme. 10 were from Sarvodaya multi-purpose telecenters and 6 from others (eg. public libraries) 30 have not specified the type of the telecenter.