|Tele-cottages to Meet Universal Service Obligations in Romania
The RITI-Policy dot-GOV Project has developed a proposal for meeting Universal Service Obligations (USO), an European Union Accession (acquis) requirement. The Romanian draft legislation on USO provides a right for all end users to benefit from the provision of basic communications services at a specified quality level, regardless of their geographical location and, at affordable prices.
Definitions of Universal Service
Many consider universal service as a telephone line for every household. RITI-Policy is taking a community-based approach, where "tele-cottages" provide access to communities for telephone services. This pilot project is a demonstration important to the Ministry of Communications, Telecommunications, and Information Technology because it has the potential to show how policy changes impact the average Romanian citizen.
With rough estimates of 30 percent penetration rate for telecommunication services (either fixed or mobile), a large part of the Romanian population is still left without access to basic telecommunication services.
Planning for Universal Service
The Government of Romania has decided to establish a Universal Service Fund to finance the net cost of specific measures to increase access in rural communities. The Fund will be financed through contributions by the ICT industry (in this case the telecommunications operators).
Universal Service via Tele-cottages
The pilot project will introduce tele-cottages in five remote communities in Romania which currently have no access to any communications services. Even though currently there are 28 existing telecenters throughout the country, some of them do not offer telecommunication services but only computer processing.
It is envisioned that the tele-cottages will provide telephone access for everyone in these five communities at affordable prices. The services offered will include access at a fixed location to the basic circuit switched telecom services, including fax and Internet access.
This communal approach may assist economically constrained users, because the tariff and subscription fees will be split among the community, thus making the cost of a telephone call affordable. Additionally, for citizens in the community who cannot afford to pay the normal tariff for the usage, such as pensioners or persons with low or no income, special vouchers which provide a reduced tariff may be developed.
The tele-cottages will illustrate an approach as to how the requirement of the Law on Universal Services can be met at affordable prices.
Making Tele-cottages a Reality
RITI-Policy is working with various representatives of the telecommunications industry, and holders of current mobile network satellite links, radio companies, and the railroad in order to find the best solution for the telecommunications connectivity. Local business communities will also play an important role in sponsoring and sustaining the tele-cottages.
It is vitally important that a fully neutral approach is followed regarding technology and the telecommunication operators used.
Currently, we are working on the funding of set-up and operating costs, which will come from external sources as not to burden the operation. Once the tele-cottages are in place, the operating costs will be covered by usage fees. To reduce costs, the tele-cottages, at least initially, will be staffed by volunteers, as are many of the current telecenters.
The pilot project will be launched in Summer 2003, and by autumn the usage by the communities will be evaluated for economic viability and sustainability.
RITI-Policy (dot-GOV) is cooperating with RITI-Access (dot-ORG), local organizations, the World Bank and the Government of Romania on this initiative to maximize the results and gain from the experience of others who have performed similar work in the past.
The RITI-Policy Project began on May 21st, 2002 and will run three years (Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 186-A-00-02-00101-00 under the dot-GOV Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00009-00).