Written by Hungarian Telecottage Association | Wednesday, 10 March 2010 10:14
Hungarian Telecottage Association
The Hungarian Telecottage Association (HTA) [Magyar Teleház Szövetség (MTSZ)] is an association of the organisations that operate telecentres and/or private persons who contribute to the Association’s work. The HTA operates as a civil organisation and is currently headquartered in Budapest.
In Hungary, the telecentre movement began in 1995, when 15 private persons founded the Hungarian Telecottage Association Society (called merely the “Association” in the article to follow) in the town of Csákberény. The country’s first telecentres had been founded in 1994 in the towns of Csákberény and Nagymágocs.
In 1997, a program aimed at promoting the creation of new telecentres was launched with funding from the USAID under the co-ordination of the “Network for Democracy” Program. The result was the creation of 31 additional telecentres.
The program continued from 1998 through 2000 with the sponsorship of the Hungarian government – specifically, the Ministry of Communications [the Hírközlési Minisztérium or FVM] – during which time a further 123 telecentres were formed.
In the year 2000, the first strategy was drafted under the title “Passageway, the National Telecentre Strategy and Programme 2000-2006”. The document included all ideas for the future of the Telecentre Movement through the end of 2006.
By 2009, a total of 360 telecentres had been created across Hungary, with 2 to 3 additional, independently founded cottages requesting admission to the Hungarian Telecottage Association per month.
Fifteen years after its founding, the Hungarian telecentre network may be seen as something of a world power, with individuals from countries across the globe coming to Hungary to study its telecentres, write books about them, and to report on the value they represent. At the same time, the future of Hungary’s telecentres is in doubt, as support for them in reality falls far from the level of recognition they have received.
What Does a Telecentre Do?
It is perhaps easiest to answer this question if one first examines the underlying need that prompted the development of the telecentre.
It was the librarian’s profession that first rose to the challenge, as access to information falls within the fundamental mission of the library.
At the outset, the telecentre movement was built primarily around civil organisations, institutions participating in the program including culture and education centres, community centres, schools, local governments, regional peasant home museums, and libraries alike. In addition, smaller communities quickly realised that the telecentre offered a superb tool for solving problems and fulfilling unmet needs within the local society (for applying for grants, organising public events, developing social aid services, drafting development plans, and conducting training and educational courses, for example). Thus, in the beginning, it was small community groups that established telecentres, as it was such groups that needed access to information the most.
The diversity that would soon feed on the circumstances outlined above, the stunning ability of the telecentre to integrate and adapt, the enormous potential for innovation, and the success story of the telecentre in Hungary soon raised a number of new questions, including:
How is a telecentre different from a conventional community centre?
Should every municipality have a telecentre?
What are the things a telecentre can and can’t do?
Should a telecentre be established only on a civil basis?
Is there such a thing as a community enterprise?
Should telecentre remain the purview of the small community, or be found in large cities, as well?
What makes a telecentre sustainable?
Should there be some sort of unified service and quality assurance system?
Is the telecentre a project or an institution?
During the past 2 to 3 years, the use of computers and electronic infrastructure has spread as quickly among households in Hungary, as elsewhere in the world, raising the inevitable question: with the number of private access points on the rise, is there any reason for the creation and maintenance of community access points such as those represented by the telecentre?
How is a community access point different from a private one?
Perhaps indirectly, the difference lies in that the future of the telecentre is based on modern information technology on which certain community services, such as telecommuting, remote education, e-learning, e-commerce, and remote administration may be constructed.
An additional difference is that a network of several hundred terminals (telecentre) is itself something of value, as it allows for the implementation of a variety of standardised services.
In the longer run, telecentres will serve to nurture local social enterprise that – along with other similar initiatives – provide a point of departure and a model for the development of an integrally constructed civil society that is based on the concepts of community planning and community action.
One truly beautiful aspect of the institution of the telecentre is that it becomes a vehicle for modern values (such as the importance of a society based on knowledge and information) by preserving old ones, such as community spirit, respect for local customs and traditions, and other things that define local societal identity.
It is important to note that the telecentre began as a small municipal phenomenon with the mission of ensuring equal opportunities for those living in the Hungarian countryside.
Present and Future
Today, the services of 360 telecentres are accessible to 2.5 million, primarily disadvantaged individuals. Since it’s founding, the civil telecentre movement has mobilised approximately 2 billion Hungarian forints in funds, most from domestic state and local government resources, though the number of telecentres established from private funds has also been growing. With its operations to date, the telecentre network has created 1000 new jobs, while employing a further 5000 volunteers. Hungary has more telecentres per capita than any other country in the world in terms of community access to information and communication technologies. Though most telecentres are operated by civil organisations, many fall under the proprietorship of local governments, local government institutions, or even local businesses. Regardless of who operates them, however, in each case, the success of a given telecentre requires the co-operation of the entire community – of government, business, and civil organisations alike. Although telecentres assume many public responsibilities, they still do not enjoy funding by the Hungarian state.
The year 2007 saw the necessity for a new program – a new direction, as it were – in the life of the telecentre movement. It was in that year that the debate material for the HTA’s new strategy was placed before the Association’s assembly of delegates. The document clarifies the fundamental issues surrounding the movement, while delineating the association’s new strategy and the preparatory work done for it, and offering a number of excerpts from other documents, as well.
The document defines a telecentre as a human and society-based innovation whose purpose is to develop and shape communities, and in doing so, to improve the quality of life enjoyed by those living within them. At the same time, the telecentre is a place that facilitates the organisation of community programs and provides tools and assistance in conducting day-to-day affairs and setting the stage for community life.
The future of the Hungarian Telecottage Association is as follows:
The Association hopes to create an opportunity for as many people as possible to take part in the emerging digital world.
The Association’s mission, through the institution of the telecentre, is:
to develop and shape communities
to improve the quality of life of community residents, with especial reference to disadvantaged communities
to provide assistance in organising community programs and developing community awareness
to promote equal opportunity
to provide people with assistance in conducting their daily affairs
to provide access to a usable, up-to-date Internet facility and current information via telecentre equipment
Services and other benefits for members
- News service
Telecentre press monitoring, with news items related to the telecentre movement published on the institution’s Web page. Regular publication of a newsletter with up-to-date information on programmes, individual telecentres, the chairmanship, news, and sponsors.
- Use of telecentre knowledge base, organisation of educational programmes and conferences
Access to telecentre methodology materials, professional publications, teaching materials, and tried solutions through the telecentre Knowledge Base; organisation of telecentre traning courses, workshops, conferences, and professional events.
- Hosting of foreign visitors, organisation of study trips
The hosting of visiting telecentre professionals; organisation of joint programmes and visits to other telecentres.
- Professional telephone consultation
consulting and advisory service tailored to the organisation or individual, offered by e-mail or person-to-person.
- Telecentre e-mail address
- Mobile telephone fleet service
Microsoft software packages:
- Free information technology journals
IDG Hungary Periodicals Publishers Ltd [IDG Magyarországi Lapkiadó Kft.], as publisher of the periodicals Computerworld-Számítástechnika (www.szt.hu), PC World (www.pcworld.hu), and GameStar (www.gamestar.hu), will be providing all telecentres in the country with current editions of its weekly newspaper and magazines, so that people might become better familiar with the opportunities afforded by computer technology and the Internet. The publisher is a market leader both in Hungary and abroad, and for this reason believes it important to promote the development of the domestic market. Further information on the actions and objectives of this company may be found at www.idg.hu.