Of telecentres and internet/cyber cafes

Wikipedia does a good job at explaining the difference between the two terms, but after conforming to the standard for some time, I all of a sudden think it might not be necessary, to differentiate to that extent TELECENTRE

A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet and other technologies that help them gather information and communicate with others at the same time as they develop digital skills. While each telecentre is different, the common focus is on the use of technologies to support community and social development — reducing isolation, bridging the digital divide, promoting health issues, creating economic opportunities, reaching out to youths. Telecentres exist in almost every country on the planet, although they sometimes go by different names (e.g. village knowledge centres, infocentres, community technology centres, community multimedia centres or schoolbased telecentres). You can learn more about telecentres on the telecentre.org web site.


An Internet cafe or cybercafe is a place where one can use a computer with Internet access for a fee, usually per hour or minute; sometimes one can have unmetered access with a pass for a day or month, etc. It may or may not serve as a regular cafe as well, with food and drinks being served. In South Korea they are called PC bang. A similar concept, the LAN Gaming Center is a variation.

Why, you wonder? I don’t think the differentiation is necessary because it slows down the overall development of ICT access initiatives in the end. Internet/cyber cafes lack social consciousness and telecentres are very difficult to replicate sustainably, how then do we move forward? I think the telecentre movement should learn a lesson from microfinance, not least because as microfinance looks for all sorts of way to reduce cost of delivering small loans, telecentre and internet/cyber cafes could play a greater role by becoming distribution nodes, Drishtee and Oneroof come to mind and branchless banking (.pdf) is a potential avenue of improving sustainability by diversify the service mix.

What Is Microfinance?

Microfinance is the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor. People living in poverty, like everyone else, need a diverse range of financial instruments to run their businesses, build assets, stabilize consumption, and shield themselves against risks. Financial services needed by the poor include working capital loans, consumer credit, savings, pensions, insurance, and money transfer services. Read more…..

The telecentre movement is well positioned, to promote improvement of standards and implementation of best practice by encouraging internet/cyber cafe to joins its’ movement in full force. The internet/cyber cafe sector lacks scale, succesful and socially conscious operator can only be born out of better of training of staff, utilisation of appropriately designed management information systems, better planning of finances, capacity utilisation, etc. Uniting these parties will boost overall effectiveness of efforts to improve ICT access regardless of profit or not for profit motives. The telecentre movement has to recognise that playing down the internet/cyber cafes’ role disregards the leading role of privately owned business, which is highly replicable and effective. What we need to watch out for in this case is mission drift. Improving the capacity of internet/cyber cafes’ will help complement the telecentre movement and create more examples of socially aware internet/cyber cafes’. There is a lot to learn from commercially driven operators than the movement might be willing to acknowledge.

How can a MFI reconcile serving non-poor savers with their claim to have a pro-poor focus? Why is serving non-poor depositors NOT an example of mission-drift?

Serving non-poor depositors does not mean that the institution no longer serves poor depositors. For a deposit-taking MFI to operate profitably and thus continue to provide both credit and savings services to the poor, it needs to mobilize deposits from poor savers, non-poor savers, and ideally, institutional savers.Providing poor savers with accounts that allow unlimited number of withdrawals (often the most popular option with poor savers) is labor intensive and costly, even if no interest is paid on the accounts…
Serving non-poor depositors may be an example of mission-expansion but not mission-drift. Even when accepting deposits from non-poor clients, the MFI’s mission need not change at all. Its target market remains poor savers and poor borrowers but it necessarily expands to include non-poor savers (and in some cases non-poor borrowers) but not to the exclusion of poor clients. Read more…

I look forward to your views on this issue, I hope it can lead rephrasing of our literature on this issue to recognise the role played by internet/cyber cafes’ in the war against information poverty. I am confident that as the industry matures multi branch operators will emerge who will be forced by virtue of their scale and greater spending capacity to operate in a social consicous matter Busyinternet. Greater scale will also improve the quality of service of their offerings, and I say this with computer training courses in mind.

For profit or not for profit?

The profit or not for profit debate has been going on for so long, Jacqueline Novogratz of CEO of the Acumen Fundcommented on the matter in a blog entry entitled “A place for profits in microfinance?

I think there are situations were a non profit stance makes a lot of sense, thus making a strong case for organisations such as Trickle Up but if we are going to achieve universal access of financial services or internet access for the base of the pyramid, these initiatives need to be private sector driven. The public sector and NGOs rarely have the capital and or the human resources to roll out products or services widely. A lot still needs to be done though. Many entrepreneurs in the developing world lack capacity to attract capital into their businesses, and this is not to say the capital markets are illiquid but they are poor at packaging their value proposition.

I think thats an area the non profits should concentrate on. Its certainly my greatest challenge, that and high transaction costs and a general lack of innovation by bankers and critical government departments. The Infodev report Scaling Up Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries: The Role of Private Sector Finance summed it up well for ICT ventures such as the one I propose.

The question of cybercafes and telecentres has also been subject to the profit or not for profit debate, I will be blogging it out soon.

Improving public internet access, profitably.

Is it really possible? I certainly this so, go through my rationale for the project. Its a well documented fact, that Telecentres struggle to sustain (.pdf)  themselves.

When we discard cybercafés we are ignoring the most replicable and sustainable governance structure known – i.e. the privately owned business, and narrowing the range of possibilities.

“ Telecenter Sustainability – Myths and Opportunities by Francisco J. Proenza”

The post below is what helped me truly realise the power the internet has, by making it easier to discuss and and exchange views both privately of publicly. I posted it in April on my blog on the CIPESA website. Can you imagine how many people have nurtured their concepts using internet powered means, blogs, e-groups and regular email?


Internet cafes chain: commercial opportunity & potential impact on ICT development?

Submitted by Munya on 1 April, 2006 – 14:52.


Munya’s blog |The internet café industry world wide is a growing sector particularly with the advent of the gaming centre in the developed world, what are the prospects of building an internet café chain in African countries and issues to consider? Some of you might be aware of this study conducted in 2002, which tackles some of the issues and is a good introduction to the issues to consider.


Having continued to study this field, it is overly apparent that an internet cafe chain is the best way of achieving lower prices for the consumer and better profitability for the investor. I am looking for the most appropriate technical solutions to connect a multinational internet cafe chain. What comes to mind is a VSAT system used by many organisations such as United Nations, Shell Oil Company, African Development Bank, African Banking Corp etc. They are usually monitored and controlled from a single network operations centre. Is a VPN suitable and cost effective solution for a multinational internet cafe chain? What are the technical implications?


Internet cafes are a major accessibility enabler of the Internet in Africa yet the industry seems so defragmented and unprofitable in the long run. What are the opportunities if any in this industry and could a commercial motive result in reliable and internet access for those without internet at home or the work place or those simply looking for a different environment to use the net in?You might be wondering why the branches should be interlinked, mainly because from this internet café chain we would like to undertake research on the use of the internet in the host countries.


Further information:



Players in the field:



Munya’s blog |Submitted by Boko on 6 April, 2006 – 00:48.


Munya — per your second paragraph statement:


“…Having continued to study this field, it is overly apparent that an internet cafe chain is the best way of achieving lower prices for the consumer and better profitability for the investor. I am looking for the most appropriate technical solutions to connect a multinational internet cafe chain. What comes to mind is a VSAT system used by many organisations such as United Nations, Shell Oil Company, African Development Bank, African Banking Corp etc. They are usually monitored and controlled from a single network operations centre.’’

How do you propose ownership/management/control of this global Internet cafe chain? Maybe one company provides the backbone infrastructure and then small cafe operators rent nodes off this backbone? What about the other local factors like quirky power supply? Who manages this backbone — ICANN?


“A Child’s education should begin 100 years before birth…”


Submitted by Munya on 18 April, 2006 – 14:53.


I propose a private sector/commercial structure to ensure sustainability and easy replication across the continent. A group of shareholders coming together preferably from diverse backgrounds to create a commercial entity that will recruit management and leave the control of the organisation to the professional team of managers that will respond to market forces but also apply knowledge gathered from forums such as this one e.g. Infrastructure sharing. Local factors such as quirky power supply will be met by operating at a capacity high enough to justify extras such as an Uninterruptible Power Supply System and a Stand-by Generator. An internet access centre on this scale will likely crowd out smaller players, so we have to decide what is more important mass internet access at lower cost or small, poorly capitalised internet access providers overcharging for what is often sub standard service?


Submitted by Boko on 20 April, 2006 – 12:45.


Munya, if this is a purely commercial venture — an Internet Cafe chain spread across different 3rd world countries with a brand name, eh? You are looking to generate great profits by quantity (mass marketing) and hence be able to deliver greater quality of service? Startup costs will be pretty steep, but here’s how I’d proceed:1) Identify your ‘test-bed’ countries/number of sites per country — preferably places you are familiar with the markets, ICT temperament, etc.2) Rent your locations, get the fastest available service the local ISP can give, buy your stand-by power generators, advertise your brand name and clearly spell out your competitive advantages.3) If you are not happy with local ISP QoS, you can become an ISP and get your own VSAT (about $25k). Not sure if ISPs operate across national borders in Africa, but if they do, then you can use same ISP to host subsequent locations you open up in other countries within your VSAT range. And you can monitor network traffic patterns in your cafes via your ISP paraphernalia, and you can install some traffic monitoring devices in each cafe branch (this is a given anyway — used for store admin/accounting)4) If you are lucky, you’d find pre-existing ISPs with good QoS, and good delivery channels (VSAT, Fiber channels, etc) you can use, that way you wouldn’t have to go thru this (very expensive) route of being your own ISP and getting a VSAT over and over. 5) There really doesn’t need to be any ‘hard/protected connection’ between these cafe sites such as VPN since you can gather all your traffic data in real time from your different ISPs whenever you need it. VPNs apply more to multi-site companies who want to maintain the ‘illusion’ of an intranet – an intra-company network which is invisible to unauthorized WWW users.


“A Child’s education should begin 100 years before birth…”

Internet cafe chain rationale

How do you sustainably provide a high quality service at low cost to a target market that doesn’t fully appreciate the benefits of ICT. What are the advantages of quick and easy access to the internet anyway? Numerous, I’m sure you are aware of them by the mere fact that you where interested enough to have a look at my blog.

The principle advantage is economies of scale, for example the technical problems are dealt with once and replicated across the chain giving the business a opportunity to tap into specialised skills which a small internet cafe couldn’t afford. There is much greater leverage to negotiate discounts in procurement of hardware, software, uniforms, paint, advertising space etc, the list goes on.