An Analysis Of Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs)

Ali Arifoglu, Gülgün Afacan, Erkan Er

Introduction

Public Internet Access Points (PIAP) can be defined as public places where people are able to access ICT technologies as well as other ICT oriented services. In the literature, it is observed that various terms such as telecentre, telecottage, community technology center, digital community center, community multipurpose center and digital center have been used to refer to PIAPs. Whatever the term used, the general aim of these centers is to reduce the digital divide. This aim is achieved by (1) providing the whole country with equal access opportunities and (2) raising the level of citizens’ ICT usage and adoption.

PIAPs are established by a government, private organization or NGO initiative. With the increasing number of PIAPs, operational and management issues have been gaining significance in the context of PIAP sustainability. Considering the important nature of those issues, a comprehensive analysis of successful PIAPs would help to identify operational and management trends, and ultimately to structure PIAPs based on those trends.

The purpose of this paper is to provide an analysis of PIAP cases. To accomplish this general aim, the following specific objectives are set:

  • To determine locations where PIAPs are established,

  • To identify technical infrastructure components installed in PIAPs,

  • To perform an analysis of organization types responsible for PIAP management and operation,

  • To identify services widely offered in PIAPs,

  • To determine opportunities for financing PIAPs,

  • To identify existing challenges related to PIAP sustainability.

To achieve these objectives, a systematic review of 17 PIAPs established in 16 different countries was performed.

Metholodgy

In this study a comprehensive analysis has been performed to identify common PIAP trends to be used as a roadmap for better implementation of PIAP projects. This analysis is performed on 17 PIAP cases from 16 different countries. Cases and corresponding country names are given in Table 1 below (See References Section for the references of PIAPs cases).

Table 1 – PIAP Cases

Case

Country

1. American Community Technology Centers (CTC)

America

2. Australia Telecentre Network

Australia

3. Kitimat Community Skills Centre

Canada

4. Remote Community Service Telecentres

Canada

5. UK Online Centers

England

6. Hungary Telecottages

Hungary

7. UNESCO Community Multimedia Centers (CMC)

Latin America, Africa and South Asia

8. Distance Learning Support Centre In Maseru

Lesotho

9. Mexico Digital Community Centers (DTC)

Mexico

10. Mozambique Telecenters

Mozambique

11. Paraguay AMIC@s

Paraguay

12. Senegal Telecenters

Senegal

13. e-Sri Lanka Telecenters

Sri Lanka

14. People First Network (PFnet)

Solomon Islands

15. Gaseleka Telecenters

South Africa

16. Taiwan Telecentres

Taiwan

17. Uganda Telecenters

Uganda

FINDINGS

Setup Location

PIAP locations are categorized into two groups: urban areas and rural areas. While urban areas imply cities, rural areas refer to towns and villages. Analysis of 17 cases reveals that all PIAPs are established in rural areas. At the same time, there are some cases which cover both rural and urban areas. The percentage of area distribution is given in Table-2.

Table-2 Setup Locations of PIAPs

Category

Frequency

Percentage

Urban Area

5

29.0

Rural Area

17

100.0

In order to establish PIAPs, various open public places are chosen. Although there are some PIAPs established in independent buildings, most of them are operated within a school, library, post office, hospital, terminal, governmental body or non-profit organization structure.

Technical Infrastructure

Analysis suggests that technical infrastructure of PIAPs is composed of three major components: hardware, software and network technologies. All technical units we found are listed in Table-3.

Table-3 Technical Components of PIAPs

Hardware

Server

PC

Printer

Scanner

Peripheral Devices

Power Supply

Photocopy Machine

Telephone

Fax Machine

Camera

Projector

Multimedia Units

Software

Operating System

Office Programs

Utilities

Security Software

Communication Software

Games

Educational and Cultural Software

Work Support Software

Software Developing Programs

Special PIAP Network Software

Network

Internet

Local Network

The technological infrastructure has a vital role in providing PIAP services efficiently. While PCs, office equipment, peripheral devices, multimedia units and communication hardware form the backbone of PIAPs, software and network infrastructure support the provision of PIAP services. PIAP hardware is grouped into two categories: basic and optional hardware. Basic hardware is used for all services of PIAPs; optional hardware is used for providing scanning and multimedia services. The operating system is the core software of the PIAP computers. However, PIAPs may also include office programs, games, educational and cultural software and programming software to support instructional and training services. Additionally, to support management and operations, PIAPs may cover utilities, security software and special network software. As connection type, local network and Internet are supplied in PIAP cases.

Management Structure

Possible organizations taking a role in the management of PIAPs are public (i.e. government), NGOs, private sector companies and international organizations. In 17 PIAPs cases, generally one organization holds the whole project management responsibility, yet there are cases where organizations corporate to manage and implement the PIAPs project. Figure-1 illustrates the percentage of organization types managing PIAP cases.

Figure 1 PIAP Project Managers (in Organizational Level)

In terms of percentage of organizations who manage PIAPs, the majority of PIAPs are managed by public organization (13, 76.0 percent), which is followed by non-governmental organization (7, 41.0 percent), and then private sector and international organizations both with 24.0 percent (n=4) each.

Operational Structure

Three types of organizations responsible for running PIAPs are public (i.e. government), NGOs, and private sector companies. No international organizations are currently taking a role in PIAP management in any of the PIAP cases investigated. Figure-2 demonstrates the percentage of organization types managing PIAP cases.

Figure 2 PIAP Project Operators (in Organizational Level)

Government is the chief organization that has the responsibility for operating PIAPs, with 65.0 percent (n=11). NGOs and private organizations have an identical share of operational roles with 53 percent (n=9).

Services Offered

PIAPs provide people with a variety of services: in total 14 types of service were observed in the PIAP cases. Figure 3 presents the types of PIAP services with their proportion of availability.

Figure 3 PIAP Services

As is seen in Figure 3, the services offered by individual PIAPs include Training and Education, and Telecommunication Services with 17 percent (n=3) for each. Through training and educational services, users are given courses in some fields. The most frequent training course offered is a fundamental ICT course, which aims to teach citizens basic ICT concepts Telecommunication services Internet access, telephone, e-mail, fax, and chat services are the most popular services provided in PIAPs. Typing service, which is used to convert hard copy of a document into electronic format, is the least preferred identified service in PIAPs.

Financing Opportunities

Financial sustainability of PIAPs is identified through 6 types of financial resources:incomes from fee-paying services, government support, international funding, private companies, donations and local administrative support. The distribution of these resources over 17 PIAP cases are demonstrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 PIAP Financial Resources

Based on the percentage of financial resources, the PIAPs are financed by incomes obtained from services (5, 30.0 percent), which is followed by governmental support, international funds, donations, shareholders’ support both with 16.0 percent (n=3), and then municipality support with 4.0 percent (n=1).

Challenges Related to PIAP Sustainability

During our analysis of the PIAP cases, various problems preventing PIAP sustainability were identified. Those problems are categorized into five groups: problems related to use; management; operation; infrastructure; and financing.

Problems Related to Use of PIAPs

In some PIAP cases, there are low levels of use, we believe that this is due to a lack of awareness of citizens resulting from inefficiency in the presentation of PIAPs. As well, in some PIAP local people with very low incomes could not afford the fees charged for services. Consequently, the use of the PIAPs is not high enough to justify the expenditures. Problems related to the use of PIAPs and percent of each problem are illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Problems Related to Use of PIAPs

Figure shows that most problematic issues regarding use of PIAPs are lack of awareness with 29.0 percent (n=5). Not being used with full capacity and unaffordable services are the other usage problems with 12.0 percent (n=2) each. The least occurring problem is related to promotional issues (1, 6.0 percent).

Problems Related to Management of PIAPs

Most critical management problem originate from inadequate support by authorities towards PIAPs. This problem influenced the availability of financial resources and sustainability of PIAPs in negative way. PIAP cases without effective management structure or lack of communication within management have faced difficulties in managerial and operational effectiveness. Problems related to managerial issues and percentages of each problem are illustrated in Figure 6.


Figure 6 Problems Related to Management of PIAPs

It can be observed from Figure 6 that inadequate support by the authorities is the most critical problem with 41.0 percent (n=7). In addition, 12.0 percent (n=2) of PIAPs have problems in tracking the project progress. Finally, one PIAP case (6.0 percent) faces management problems because of its poor management structure.

Problems Related to the Operation of PIAPs

Some PIAP cases have faced difficulties in the employment processes of PIAP personnel. The main reason is that employing qualified technical staff was not possible in those cases. Furthermore, there are some operational challenges which originate from insufficient support from local administrations. Additionally, poor communication among project partners causes operational problems. Figure 7 illustrates the percent of those mentioned operational problems.


Figure 7 Problems Related to Operation of PIAPs

Figure 7 shows that problem concerning employment issues are the most common operational problem with 29.0 percent (n=5). Lack of qualified technical staff and poor communication among project partners are other problems with 12.0 (n=2) each.

Problems Related to the Infrastructure of PIAPs

There are various problems concerning the infrastructure of PIAPs. Insufficient size of rooms within PIAPs and wrong location choices decrease their level of accessibility. Internet, phone and electricity cuts -especially in rural areas- distracted the expectation of citizens from PIAPs, hence the decreased number of PIAP users. Other problems related to malfunctioning software/hardware, old-fashioned technical infrastructure, insufficient technical support, limited range of services, and non-secure internet connections. Percentages of all problems are illustrated in Figure 8.

Figure 8 Problems Related to Infrastructure of PIAPs

As it is observed in Figure 8, electricity/internet/telephone cuts and inadequate technical infrastructure are the most common problems with 24.0 percent (n=4) each. 18.0 percent (n=3) of PIAPs cases have challenges in providing technical support. The rest of each problem has been observed in one PIAP case with 6.0 percent.

Problems Related to Financing PIAPs

The typical problem is that PIAPs are not able to obtain enough financial support. The main reason for this is that decision-makers or authorities do not appreciate the value of PIAPs. Another reason is that technical maintenance of PIAPs located in remote regions is costly, and this burdens project budgets. The percentages of all problems related to infrastructure are illustrated in Figure 9.

Figure 9 Problems Related to Financing PIAPs

In terms of percentage of financial problems, the majority are caused by insufficient authority support (7, 41.0 percent), followed by high costs of technical support and unavailability of financial resources both with 18.0 percent (n=3) each.

Conclusions And Future Work

This paper aimed to show the current trends of PIAPs established by 17 different initiatives in 16 different countries. Applying literature review and comparison methodologies, the paper provided the results of an investigation along a set of features including PIAPs’ setup locations, technical infrastructure, management structure, operational structure, services, financial opportunities and challenges affecting their sustainability.

From the analysis in this study, the following major conclusions can be obtained:

  • Rural areas are considered as the most significant places to establish PIAPs,

  • All the PIAPs install hardware, software, and network components,

  • A large number of PIAPs (11 cases) are operated by public organizations,

  • Most offered PIAP services are Training and Education, and Telecommunication Services,

  • Income obtained from services is the most significant financial support for PIAPs,

  • Most PIAPs have challenges affecting their sustainability. Among the problems; lack of citizen awareness, insufficient support from authorities, employment problems, cuts of Internet, electricity or phones, and insufficient technical infrastructure are the most common.

It is expected that, this paper will be a useful source of guide for initiatives who wish to establish PIAPs. Currently, we are working on a study aiming to perform social impact analysis of PIAPs. The results of such a study would depict the influence of PIAPs on society.

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The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441