The Western Australian Telecentre Network

The Western Australian (WA) Telecentre Network comprises about 100 community-owned, managed and incorporated telecentres throughout Western Australia, a region with vast distances between settlements.

A typical telecentre provides the following:

  • Access to the Internet;
  • A bank of computers;
  • Photocopiers, facsimile machines, modems, printers, TV-video machines, decoders, scanners; and
  • Videoconferencing.

The majority of telecentres have satellite receiver dishes that enable them to participate in one-way video or two-way audio conferences.

Telecentres act as:

  • information providers, education and training deliverers, education centres;
  • business incubators;
  • email post offices;
  • newspaper publishers and desktop publishers;
  • computer training centres;
  • office stationary suppliers;
  • cyber cafés and tourist bureaus;
  • seniors' and youth clubs, hobby centres;
  • job centres; and
  • other community purposes including more recent innovations, the provision of banking services.

The ongoing success of the WA telecentre programme has to some extent been due to the access to a range of services provided by a support unit from the Department of Local Government and Regional. The government’s involvement is regarded as being pivotal to the longer term success of the network because it provides a single point of reference that co-ordinates activity, planning and development, delivers training and brokers new projects and services. It has been instrumental in managing the expansion and development of this network, and in recent years three Departmental staff have been based in regional areas across the State to support the needs of telecentres on a daily basis.

The Department oversees the following information technology projects:

  • Management of the roll-out of full two-way 128k videoconferencing facilities for up to 100 telecentres. More than 85 telecentres throughout the State’s regions already provide videoconferencing services;
  • Public Internet access points in up to 40 communities with populations of approximately 1,000 people;
  • Completion of seven Mobile Interactive Telecommunications Environments (MITEs) - mobile, pre-wired buildings for communities who are more that 500 km from Perth and who are without appropriate facilities;
  • Establishment of up to eight telecentres in remote indigenous communities;
  • Establishment of Broadband connection in up to 100 telecentres across the State; and
  • Provision of access to satellite-based videoconferencing to remote indigenous communities .

In 2004, the Department conducted a review of the telecentre network and outlined a number of key findings and recommendations.

The telecentres’ key focus was no longer just on access to ICTs. In a majority of cases, telecentres stated that they were in the business of providing access to ICT training. However, the majority were more focused on community development activities than enabling online or e-enabled outcomes. Another consistent finding from the consultation was that the level of telecentre coordinators’ computing skills were in significant need of improvement.

The review identified the following six key functions as the basis to the future role for telecentres:

  • Provide programmes that upgrade people’s ICT skills;
  • Provide access to leading edge ICT technologies, including broadband;
  • Provide access to government information and service delivery, most notably e-government and other online services;
  • Facilitate and manage community web portals;
  • Provide access to skills transfer, training and life-long learning; and
  • Assist with the ongoing development of communities.

Telecentres that were already operational could be classified by their ongoing viability without government funding, by those that could be assisted to work towards sustainability, and by the remaining that were unlikely to ever become sustainable. It was apparent that some State funding would have to be maintained or the telecentre network would collapse. Furthermore, it was evident that the only means of acquiring additional funding for the programme, and consequent expansion of the network, was through incorporating the telecentre initiative into a wider national e-government initiative. Such an approach would benefit from having a critical mass of users throughout the country and the potential for lower costs.

The recommendations put forward by the review included ensuring that all telecentres were equipped with broadband connections and ensuring consistent training of supervisory staff so that they were able to help customers use the telecentres’ equipment.

A number of recommendations also focused on the role that telecentres could play in the delivery of services for governments of all levels (e.g., national, state and local). Furthermore, it was recommended that telecentres be co-located with libraries, business centres or other complementary facilities, as a way to enhance the utility of the telecentres.

Sources: Department of Local Government and Regional Development website:
www.dlgrd.wa.gov.au/regionDev/telecentres.asp;
www.telecentres.wa.gov.au/home/
“WA Telecentre Network: Planning for the Future”, November 2004, Department of Local Government and Regional Development.

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