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A Broad Range of Community-Based Applications in Rural Areas

Objective

The main objective of this project was to introduce a range of advanced communications application experiments in rural areas in different EC countries. The experiments were designed to provide real life conditions as test beds with a strong user and service provider involvement and to demonstrate the potential benefits to rural communities of services provided by means of advanced telecommunications. Detailed evaluation of the experiments was to be undertaken, to evaluate the viability of the applications as future commercial services. These aimed to maximise trans-national commonality, and standardisation in order to fully evaluate the applications under different conditions.
The main objective of the research was to introduce a range of advanced communications application experiments in rural areas in different European community countries. The experiments were designed to provide real life conditions as test beds with a strong user and service provider involvement and to demonstrate the potential benefits to rural communities of services provided by means of advanced telecommunications. Detailed evaluation of the experiments were undertaken to evaluate the viability of the applications as future commercial services. These aimed to maximize transnational commonality and standardization in order to fully evaluate the applications under different conditions.

Key issues in the research included:
ubiquitous service offerings across urban and rural areas;
a public access interface to integrated broadband communications (IBC) providing multimedia and multiservice capabilities;
the evaluation of potential new services in rural areas.

The research resulted in the following:

feasibility studies for teleshopping and teletwinning of schools were completed and user requirements research carried out, leading to completed organisation and functional specifications;
plans for introducing a wide range of multimedia services were prepared in the Friesland region of the Netherlands, County Wicklow in Ireland, Aveiro in Portugal, the Greek islands and in the Scottish Highlands;
research into users and service providers was carried out from which the functional specifications of the application experiments and the community teleunit in each country have been determined;
feasibility studies of application experiments were carried out;
technical specifications and simulations were introduced;
local platforms were established in rural pilot areas to coordinate organisations involved in each country and to raise community awareness of the application pilots.
Technical Approach

In each of the countries involved, a number of 'common' application experiments were to be introduced. Countries were asked to work closely together in determining common functional specifications for the applications, and in seeking possible common technical solutions.

Applications use the facility of simultaneous transfer of voice, data and image/video offered by broadband to give people living in relatively isolated areas remote access to the types of public and commercial services more immediately available to their urban counterparts. Public access to the applications is via community tele-units, which present a user friendly interface The common applications include services such as tele-counter services, providing a remote link to public administration and commercial inquiry / information counters, and tele-libraries whereby people living in rural communities can remotely access centralised library services.

One or two additional application experiments were to be carried out in each rural pilot area, designed to meet a specific user need or opportunity for which advanced telecommunications offers a particular advantage. These experiments were remote diagnosis of plant disease, remote learning and training, distributed office system, and local (rural) telemarkets.

Such applications experiments enable potential broadband services to be evaluated in the types of areas which would otherwise tend to receive low priority in the market-led policies of the telecom operators. The very availability of such services may in fact demonstrate a latent demand which can benefit not only the socio-economic development of rural areas but cause telecom operators to revise their own assumptions.

Key Issues

- Ubiquitous service offerings across urban and rural areas.
- A 'public access' interface to IBC, providing multimedia, and multi-service capabilities.
- Evaluation of potential new services in rural areas.

Expected Impact

The project served to raise awareness of the potential offered to rural communities by advanced communications and to pave the way for further experiments targeted on the needs of rural areas.

Coordinator

Highland Regional Council
Address
Glenurquhart Road
IV3 5NX Inverness
United Kingdom