“Bringing the Benefits of Information Communication Technology to the People of Mindanao through the Internet Cafes”
The internet café industry has been around for more than two decades now if we take into consideration the establishments of LAN gaming centers in the late 1990’s but it is sad to say that it has never really asserted its leadership in the field of community ICT access in the country. In a recent study by Yahoo Philippines and Nielsen entitled “Internet Habits Study for the Philippines” it was found out that the Philippines has one of the smallest computer penetration rate in South East Asia which stands at 14 percent of the total population having computers at home. Despite of this, Filipinos are one of the most active users of the internet in which 28 percent of the Filipinos living in urban centers have accessed the internet in a particular month or on an average of 5 percent of our total population uses the internet on a particular day.
In a correlated study that was submitted to the World Bank, Commission on Information Communication Technology and the National Telecommunications Commission entitled “Policy Options to Stimulate ICT Universal Service” it showed that broadband subscriber penetration is at 2.45 percent with only 15 percent of the country covered by broadband internet infrastructure. Despite of this they found out that 26 percent of the total population of the Philippines goes online on a given time frame. Both studies found out that 70 percent of all internet access made in urban centers in the Philippines actually comes from the internet cafes. In the same study that was submitted to the World Bank, CICT and NTC part of the recommendations there was to develop government policies that would make internet cafes as effective access points for ICT at the community level.
It talks about recognizing the vital role of the internet cafes plays in providing ICT access to the community that they serve. It aims for the development of the industry from the traditional gaming business model to a more dynamic one that could offer a full line of ICT related services to the community. It strives for developing the internet café in the following field:
- The Internet Cafes as Centers for Education and Excellence – internet cafes could serve as access centers for ICT for students and teachers to further enhance their learning experience. It also makes it possible for those living in remote places to have access to updated learning materials that they could use in their day to day activities in school. CICT projects like the eSkwela makes it possible for out of school youths to earn their high school diploma thus providing greater opportunities for them to have a better future.
- The Internet Cafes as Centers for Community Access to Vital Government Services – growth and stability of a particular area largely depends on the strong presence of the government providing it with vital services that it needs. The internet cafes could serve as access points of the community to vital government services even in the remote areas. One does not need to go to a far away government center and line up for long hours just to get the their vital documents. The government’s eSerbisyo website makes it possible for one to get their birth certificates online and to apply for a passport that they might need in their job application in other countries.
- The Internet Cafes as Centers for the Further Development of eCommerce in the Philippines – developments in the field of ICT made it possible to break down boundaries in the field of economic development. From operating in a round world which basically connotes separation of states, the world of today is flat meaning that economic opportunities are now available for people in all parts of the world not only to the developed countries. One must not have a physical store today to trade goods and services. ICT made it possible for people to earn a living online. Further engagement in ICT has shown that it provides to stimulate economic activities in a particular area. From a remote beach resort destination in the past, Boracay has been transformed to the number one tourist destination in the Philippines primarily from blog post shared by people who experienced its beauty. There are a lot of interesting places in the Philippines that could be developed as tourist destinations that the internet cafes could play a vital role in disseminating information about these places so that people would be aware of it.
- The Internet Cafes as Centers for Collaboration and Community Building – achieving peace and stability in an area involves the participation of people at the community level. It primarily involves keeping the people informed of the latest issues affecting their community. The internet cafes could serve as a vital link to people in the community as they share each other experiences online and somehow come up with a consensus on issues affecting them. The recent experience of the Philippines with regards to typhoon Ondoy had shown the active engagement of people to be of service to those who needs it based on the information provided by those in the affected areas. It has provided the people and government of a clear situation on the ground so that adequate help could be provided to those who are in need.
Thus internet café operators must play a vital role in community building. It is hoped that they would actively get involved in the building of a community of people that are empowered through ICT to seek changes in their community. Through the resources that they have available in their respective internet cafes one could start building bridges to address the basic issues separating their respective communities. It provides the opportunity for economic and social development at the community level through the advances in ICT.