Using Telecenters to Implement Romanian Universal Service
Launch of Romanian Telecenters in Four Impoverished Communities
On the 14th of October, the USAID-funded DOT-COM Romanian Information Technology Initiative (RITI) completed the "roll-out" of computer and telephony equipment in four Romanian Communes to bring universal telephony services to these citizens:
Two "dots" Essential to Activity Development
During the summer of 2003, RITI-Policy (one component of RITI, implemented by dot-GOV), took the initiative to launch a telecenter pilot project in order to assess whether this model would be a cost-efficient way of meeting universal services obligations.
In the selected communes, very few (if any) private households have access even to the most basic telecommunications services. The host communes, all located in extremely poor and rural areas, would also directly benefit from access to a complete set of telecom services, including Internet access.
After RITI-Policy received full support from the Minister of Communication and IT (MCTI), USAID/Romania started working to implement this initiative. Through RITI, USAID and MCIT will build a viable model for the Government of Romania to deliver telephone and Internet services to these communities. RITI is also working with these communities to help them use these services to build local social and economic development.
dot-GOV/Internews Network is implementing RITI-Policy, the arm of the initiative focused on policy reform and regulator strengthening in Romania. RITI-Policy is working closely with MCTI and with telecommunications operators to develop a policy infrastructure that will legally allow for and sustain this model.
RITI-Access is implemented by dot-ORG/the Academy for Educational Development (AED), which is developing on the ground pilot projects demonstrating the power of information and communication technologies for local social and economic development. RITI-Access staff are focusing on the technology infrastructure and the local business plans for long-term financial and management sustainability. Within this project, RITI-Access has concentrated on identifying and purchasing the equipment needed in the centers and installation of the equipment.
Local Cost Share Builds Involvement and Sustainability
The mayor's offices in these communities are donating essential components, such as the building space for the telecenter, partial cost of salaries and utilities, and the recurring costs for telephony and connectivity. Their cost share ensures their commitment and involvement and builds the long-term sustainability of these telecenters right from the start of the activity.
Telecommunication Operators Actively Engaged
After having selected four suitable communes for the pilot project, RITI-Policy negotiated with telecommuncations operators to establish, entirely with their own financing, the physical telecommunications connection to the centers. RITI-Policy has also negotiated preferential tariffs for the centers.
Different technical solutions have been used, partly to enhance the effect of the project as a test case for a full scale implementation. For example, the Iana site was too remote and sparsely populated for any vendor other than Rartel to provide telephony and Internet services. A VSAT system was installed by Rartel to provide this connectivity. This solution sends a signal up to a stationary satellite and then down to a receiving station located within Romania, and is capable of carrying both voice and data traffic. This solution can be deployed anywhere, especially where other solutions are not readily available.
Each telecenter has been connected by a telecommunications operator via wireless, satellite or fixed line to the public switched telecoms networks (PSTN). The work on connecting Rebricea will take some more time due to the very extensive work needed and will be concluded by the end of this year
The operators, Rom Telecom, Connex, Orange and RarTel committed their participation as a result of the RITI-Policy negotiations in light of new legislation on universal services. They are providing networking equipment and preferential tariffs for the usage of the services.
Telecenters Equipped Based on Local Needs
After site visits, equipment needs were assessed and adapted, according to the characteristics and requirements for each site and operator requirements.
A request for proposals regarding equipment procurement was initiated by RITI-Access and quotations for computers, printers, multifunctional, network cabling, PABX, telephones, faxes were received and awarded to different vendors. The selected vendors are IntelCAD, System Plus, Data Ovy Product and they were selected based on cost-quality report and also based on their responsiveness and flexibility to our requirements. The computer software was donated by Microsoft.
Training of Mayors and Managers on Technical and Management Issues
RITI-Policy organized a three-day training for key persons the communes (such as the mayors and the telecenter managers) to prepare them for successfully operating the centres. The RITI-Access team made presentations on issues such as economics of computer ownership, Telecenter management, monitoring & evaluation procedures, sustainability issues, cost share/match documentation, lessons learned from the Bulgarian telecenter model.
Often, simple access to information was found to be the most impressive. For example, during Frecatei's training programme, the Mayor attended an event in Bucharesti where his picture was taken and posted on a web site. When he returned to Frecatei, the RITI team visited the web site, found the picture and printed it out for him, which impressed the Mayor greatly.
Taking the Lessons from this Model
RITI-Policy will closely evaluate the usage of the centers as an input to further policy initiatives related to the implementation of the Romanian legislation on universal services, which in reality will have direct consequences on the development of the communications market as such.