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Upi Community e-Center: Linking a Rural Community Globally through Wireless Technology
Internet access is prevalent in urban communities these days but is still almost absent in most rural communities. As a result, many rural communities get left behind in terms of access to information that is vital to their development.
Such was the case of Upi’s residents before 2004. Back then, the Municipality of Upi used to be an isolated rural area with very limited telecommunications services. There were no landline phones nor fax services, let alone broadband internet services. Calls made to trading centers were expensive as these were carried out through mobile phones. Thus, the LGU had difficulty transacting business with regional offices and its trading partners. Limited courier service meant that those who needed to send packages had to travel for two hours over dilapidated roads to Cotabato City to mail urgent documents. The delivery of local and national newspapers was always delayed and Cotabato radio stations were the only reliable source for local and national news. Students also had difficulty conducting research because there was no public library.
Realizing that better access to information could substantially improve their situation, Upi’s LGU proceeded to install wireless broadband Internet connection in October 2004 and establish their Community e-Center (CeC). This move encouraged other government agencies to pursue their Information and Communications Technology (ICT) projects in the municipality.
Similar to most privately-run internet access businesses, the CeC offers a host of ICT services such as internet access, document encoding, scanning, photocopying, printing, CD/DVD writing, PC repair and maintenance, IT consultancy, system development, IT training and tutorials. What sets it apart was that it ventured into broadcast media to expand its reach. The CeC helped establish the local radio station DXUP-FM and now also manages a local TV channel which airs LGU activities and projects through its daily public affairs program, The Working Public Servant. The CeC is now also responsible for the photo and video documentations of events in the municipality.
In addition, the CeC maintains the LGU’s eNational Government Accounting System in partnership with the Commission on Audit. It also hosts the Legislative Tracking System and the municipality’s official website. These services helped improve the financial efficiency of the LGU, the legislative transparency of the Sangguniang Bayan, and introduced Upi to the world.
The community has since been transformed and empowered in various ways. Business transactions between Upi’s residents and their domestic or foreign partners could now be conducted daily and almost in real-time. Communication expenses were reduced to almost nil and Upi residents had better access to more information and income-earning opportunities. The CeC made it to the top ten e-centers in the country that represented the country in the 2005 APEC Digital Opportunity Center contest in Taipei, Taiwan. While remaining a rural community, Upi and its residents now enjoy urban amenities and services.
The Upi CeC helped improve the computer literacy of the women and youth of Upi through the Step-UP Project, a partnership between the Visayan Forum and the Local Government’s Gender and Advocacy Program. It also helped in the computerization of Datu Paglas Municipality. The CeC now plans to train barangay officials on computer literacy and to conduct a campaign against internet crimes in the schools so that students can avoid becoming victims. In terms of economic development, the Upi CeC also plans to accept web advertisements, engage in eticketing, e-banking, and ecommerce. It has plans to organize Upi residents working abroad and create a foundation for ICT projects and programs in Upi.
While the CeC was established by the LGU, it is managed by an ICT Council which is composed of 13 representatives from various sectors—LGU, women’s, indigenous people’s organization, REACT, student council, out-of-school youth, federation of PTCAs, business sector and the academe. This multi-sectoral composition of the council encouraged broader participation in the planning, decision-making, and approval of the CeC’s annual work plans. The council sets the directions, guidelines and strategies for the e-Center and ensures that the program framework is consistent with the community’s culture. The council also sets the policies and procedures relating to the CeC’s membership, usage, data collection, financial management, and other operations.
The Upi CeC has been operational for seven years and is now located in a new, separate building with 15 units of computers for instructional and research purposes, 3 workstations, and 2 computer servers. It also has image, video capture and printing equipment. There are more than 750 Community eCenters established in the country. But Upi CeC remains as the only fully operational CeC in Maguindanao Province. With its success and service expansion, it hopes to inspire neighboring municipalities to follow its footsteps and is willing to help other Maguindanao municipalities establish their own CeCs.
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