Contract let to link rural areas in north

Telecom officials have awarded the first bid to use public funds to improve the access to telephones and Internet. The beneficiaries will be some 4,000 residents and some 1,200 students in the communities of Waldeck, La Lucha, San Alberto, La Perla and Cultivezin the Pacuarito of Limón.

The money comes from the Fondo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, which holds money paid by private companies to purchase a telecom concession in the country.

The successful bidder in this initial project is Telefónica de Costa Rica, said the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones. The firm has six months to get the job done.

The action here is in contrast to an international study warned of decreasing interest of local governments and businesses in developing countries to provide public access to computers and Internet. This may may close a critical source of information for underprivileged groups, the study said. The study was by researchers at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle.

The study calls on governments and donor organizations to increase investment in public access to Internet and incorporate it into national initiatives. Researchers also say computer games are beneficial because they build technology skills, according to wire service reports.

Costa Rica included the process for providing Internet and telephone access to rural areas when the law opening telecommunications to private firms won approval.

The Superintendencia said that the initial project will provide service to 11 schools, too. Residents of the areas have waited up to 10 years for these services, the agency said. The projects also call for providing service to health centers and local public Internet access centers.

There are six more projects in the bidding stage that will bring services to Roxana de Pococí areas around Guatuso, Upala, Los Chiles, San Carlos and Sarapiquí, said the Superintendencia.

The projects, costing $26.7 million, will bring these services to some 200,000 persons by the end of the year.

Projects on the drawing board will provide service to the southern zone, the agency said.

The University of Washington study said that elsewhere as new technologies, such as smartphones and home computers become available, organizations are losing interest in providing access to public computers connected to the Internet. The trend is especially pronounced among development agencies, it said.

The five-year study surveyed 5,000 users of public computers and 2,000 non-users, as well as 1,250 operators of public access venues. Researchers say public access to the Internet was the only source of information for one-third of those surveyed and more than half said their use of computers will decrease if public access is shut.

The study conducted in eight developing countries concluded underemployed persons, women, rural residents and other often marginalized groups draw a lot of benefits from having access to computers in places such as Internet cafes, telecenters and public libraries.  According to researchers, the biggest benefits are seen in education, search for jobs and finding answers to health issues.

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