Government Public Access Centres (PACs): A beacon of hope for marginalised communities
Notwithstanding massive injections into broadband infrastructure, large sectors of the world’s population remain without access to the internet. One of the strategies employed by Government and the private sector to address the digital divide has been to provide basic computing services and internet access to communities in the form of public access centres (PACs) or otherwise known as telecentres. Over the years PAC related interventions have been subjected to much introspection, and critique, given a number of examples of failures. This paper examines a PAC program in South Africa which has been running with success for ten years. The paper reports on a study which includes data collected from more than two thousand four hundred users of PACs. The findings provide critical insights into the value proposition of PACs for communities in impoverished areas and whether this is still relevant from a policy perspective to tackle the digital divide. The findings also provide insights into the profile of users; the factors which impact on their choice of a PAC as an internet access point; and the extent to which there is a reliance on PACs. The most revealing finding from the study indicates that PACS provided the average user with something more than just an internet access point. The study has determined that PACs have a significant effect on the hopefulness a citizen has for his or her self, community and country.
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