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IDIA2014 Conference
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
3-4 November 2014

The Siyakhula Living Lab: a Successful Eight-Year Experiment in Public Access and Activation

Sibukele Gumbo

Full paper

Abstract

Mobile devices are spreading rapidly globally, moving from legacy voice to platforms capable of supporting data exchange. These devices are surely an important evolutionary step in reshaping telecommunication technologically, economically and socially. In the developed world, mobile devices are complementing and enriching a wealth of fixed installations, not replacing them. In the developing world, on the other hand, mobile devices are being more and more proposed as the final solution to data connectivity, the long awaited silver bullet to re-connect large parts of communities, not just by network operators that have a clear vested interest in their diffusion, but by active ICT4D researchers. They are seen as the ultimate technology, which, according to its proponents, will eliminate the need for public, semi-public or private fixed installations realized according to a model that can be summarized as ‘telecentre’. We think writing off telecentres because of the diffusion of mobile devices is a repeat of the ‘blinding’ of ICT4D practitioners by the latest technology, which has made large part of the ICT4D history a never ending race to capture the emerging technology, without any substantial impact besides academic papers and, maybe, some short lived transformation in communities where the experiments were conducted. To substantiate our position, we present our experience in the Siyakhula Living Lab, an experiment in the introduction of ICT connectivity and services in the Mbhashe municipality, a deep rural area in South Africa. This area, like many others, is marred by underdevelopment and sustained emigration. Initial evidence from this experiment, a joint venture between two South African Universities, Rhodes and Fort Hare and now into its eight year, clarifies that telecentres still make sense from a technical, financial and social point of view, but fixed and public installation can enhance private, mobile devices, in a symbiotic and virtuous relation.

Key words

mobile, telecentre, rural, connectivity, e-services