& the GII
page considers Australian and New Zealand telecentres
or telecottages - community versions of cybercafes.
It questions hype about telecentres as a mechanism for
the revitalisation of rural communities, particularly
in remote Australia.
Australian and New Zealand telecottages - often referred
to as teleservice centres - are generally in rural locations,
often run on a voluntary basis (sometimes with government
support), may offer subsidised ICT training and are often
associated with other community facilities.
Telecottages first appeared in rural Scandinavia - notably
Sweden and Denmark - the late 1980s and thus predate the
Australia's first telecottage (oriented towards distance
education) opened at Walcha in 1992 after a range of government
and academic studies about rural disadvantage and the
supposed scope for 'community teleservices' to drive regional
employment growth. The 1991 Telecottages: the potential
for rural Australia report by David Horner &
Ian Reeve for example claimed that such facilities
the potential to overcome many of the traditional handicaps
suffered by rural and remote communities. They enable
rural communities to participate fully in the new information
society which is emerging around the globe.
was echoed in the 1993 conference 'Telecottages, Teleworking,
Telelearning: Road to Rural Revival' - which was followed
by establishment of over 100 Australian telecentres
- and in overseas initiatives discussed in works such
as the 2002 report
on Telecenters for Socio-economic and Rural Development
in Latin America and the Caribbean, produced by the
International Telecommunications Union, UN Food &
Agricultural Organization and the InterAmerican Development
Bank and in Connected for Development: Information
Kiosks and Sustainability (New York: UN Information
& Communication Technologies Task Force 2003) edited
by Akhtar Badshah, Sarbuland Khan & Maria Garrido.
Many of the Australian centres expired within five years
of establishment, both through lack of community interest
and because they were not financially self-sustaining,
contrary to visions expressed in works such as Karen Geiselhart's
2004 The lectronic Canary: Sustainability Solutions
for Australian Teleservice Centres (PDF)
centres can act as a metaphorical canary
that indicates the overall health of the community.
If the canary dies then Governments can be assured the
community is in trouble and in danger of further isolation
and potential collapse. Without access to basic services,
a small community can be left with a standard of living
more like that of a third world country.
governments have found that claim unpersuasive, reflected
in the demise of individual canaries and advocacy group
Community TeleServices Australia, Inc.
The major achievement over the past decade was the Western
Australian state Telecentre Network,
with around 100 centres that often feature personal computers,
two-way 128kb videoconferencing, photocopiers, scanners,
facsimile machines, printers and VCRs. The network has
been driven by distance learning and by substantial government
funding: in practice it is an arm of the state Department
of Local Government & Regional Development.
Arguably much telecottaging within advanced economies
has not involved substantial skilling of participants
- access to fax machines, personal computers, photocopiers
and modems is insufficient - and few are self-sustaining.
The viability of telecottages as the centrepiece of call
centres in Australia is also problematical, with major
organisations choosing to export their call centre operations
to India, China or other low cost jurisdictions.
Expectations about distance learning have also not been
met, as evident in the 2001 Perspectives on Distance
Education: Telecentres: Case studies and key issues
edited by Colin Latchem & David Walker, the 2001 The
Internet & Regional Australia: How rural communities
can address the impact of the Internet (PDF)
by Rosie Simpson and 'Sustainability of Community Online
Access Centres' by Peter Farr & Franco Papandrea in
Governance of Communication Networks (New York:
Physica-Verlag 2006) and by June Lennie's 'An Evaluation
Capacity-Building Process for Sustainable Community IT
Initiatives: Empowering and Disempowering Impacts' in
11(4) Evaluation (2005), and 'Building community
capacities in evaluating rural IT projects' by June Lennie,
Greg Hearn, Lyn Simpson and Megan Kimber in 1(1) International
Journal of Education & Development using Information
and Communication Technology (2005).
Detailed statistics are hard to obtain but there appears
to have been little substantial transfer of work from
major metropolitan businesses to unskilled individual
contractors, contrary to the vision of rural mums making
a living tending a personal computer rather than the farm
One reason why expectations have not been met is that
from a managerial perspective it is easier to outsource
code development, bill processing or other keyboarding
to a 'digital sweatshop' in Mumbai or Guangzhou.
community, commerce and culture
For some enthusiasts the significance of telecottaging
has been community - bringing people together, introducing
them to ICT and revitalising rural life.
The movement embodies a range of values. Telework New
Zealand ambitiously asserts
is a critical component of a truly sustainable economy.
In a US Government trial in Puget Sound, telework was
shown to reduce net energy
consumption by 10%. No other initiative comes close
many contemporary problems at source. Traffic is only
one example. Infrastructure and service delivery costs,
urban drift, and collapsing urban and city environments
are also good examples.
increases the possible contribution of every citizen
to the local and national economy. It decreases the
costs associated with government. It enhances the ability
of citizens to achieve their own objectives. Some telework
strategies work directly to alleviate the symptoms and
causes of the 'digital divide'.
money. Service delivery is more economic, infrastructure
costs are reduced, and productivity is increased.
also improve flexibility. Physical structures and traditional
organisations are cumbersome and hard to change. Those
based on location-independent concepts are far more
flexible and adaptable in our rapidly changing world.
With more flexible response, more productive enterprises,
and the ability of all individuals to contribute, the
region or nation becomes more competitive and attracts
more employment and development.
practice telecottaging in Australia has attracted high-profile
but not very substantial funding, with an initial burst
of support during the first half of the 1990s followed
by more money under a range of federal and state/territory
government programs at the end of the decade.
Much of the second round of funding was drawn from the
'Telstra bonus' (eg under the Networking the Nation
initiative), dismissed by critics as "buying off
the bush" regarding the privatisation
of the dominant telecommunications provider - profiled
Reports from academic institutions and government research
bodies about the potential of telecottaging and rural
telework have been more positive than the small number
of evaluations of outcomes from past spending. One might
ask whether the moment for Australian telecottages has