3 Public Access: Landscape & Realities

A central goal of this research is to identify trends that cut across different locations, but these trends are also unavoidably influenced by a range of conditions on the ground. This chapter draws on data from the project inventories and surveys, as well as national statistics, to provide profiles of the countries included in the study. This information provides an analytical lens to compare countries with different circumstances — types, levels, breadth, and depth of user (and non-user) behaviors — enabling us to understand patterns of use and the resulting outcomes. Public access impacts do not exist in isolation. They flow from usage patterns that in turn are linked not only to infrastructure and services but also to the goals, needs, and desires of the individuals engaged with the public access phenomenon, whether directly or indirectly. The Global Impact Study countries represent a range of such socioeconomic, political, and technological contexts.

This chapter describes the distribution of public access facilities (based on the Global Impact Study inventories) and provides for each country a profile of public access users, the range of public access venue services, and a brief overview of usage patterns (based on the Global Impact Study surveys). The most comprehensive coverage is available for five countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines. These five countries carried out all three research components (inventory, surveys, and in-depth studies).

The data show a multifaceted landscape of public access venues with various business models (the mix varies by country) and a wide range of general and specialized services. The breakdown of public access users is equally diverse, with youth, adults, males, females, workers, and students represented in varying degrees, depending on the country and/or type of venue.

Findings from the inventories

The following analysis reflects the final inventories as of December 2011. It represents the counts in the inventories created, with all their strengths and limitations. (See Chapter 2 for the inventory methodology and limitations.) Countries covered here are Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Lithuania, and the Philippines.

Types of public access venues: For ease of analysis, public access venues in this report are categorized as libraries, telecenters, or cybercafés. However, these distinctions are subject to large variations in different countries. The inventory was therefore structured to avoid these labels (except to identify libraries), in order to capture specific venue characteristics. Thus, Figure 3.1 and Table 3.1 include both telecenter and cybercafé‐type venues under “stand‐alone” facilities — venues that are primarily devoted to providing access to computers, the internet, and related peripherals (in contrast to others that may have a broader repertoire of services or different strategic foci).

Public access venue distribution

The distribution of public access venues varies widely across the project countries.
Using data from the Global Impact Study inventories, the figures below show the relative numbers of each venue type in the six countries.

Figure 3.1: Proportion of public access venues by country
Figure 3.1: Proportion of public access venues by country
Table 3.1: Number of venue types by country
(total # of venues)
Library School Stand-Alone Facility Government Building Post Office Religious Institution Other
Bangladesh (5,656) 11 138 1,304 4,121 15 0 67
Brazil (13,762)* 722 549 4,676 1,093 0 5 6,781
Chile (21,147) 415 803 19,878 2 0 11 38
Ghana (511) 8 13 478 7 0 2 12
Lithuania (1,390) 1,266 50 32 5 0 3 34
Philippines (23,078) 67 0 23,011 0 0 0 0

Note for Figure and Table 3.1: Venues in Brazil categorized as “other” are primarily government-run initiatives (difficult to categorize due to the limited administrative data available)

1. The density of public access venues is country-specific.

Different countries will have different overall levels of connectivity at any given point in time, in addition to being at different stages of public access venue development. An issue of relevance is therefore the relationship between a country’s level of connectivity and the extent of the public access phenomenon in that country. (This relationship will be reflected for example in the composition of their users).[1] The available inventory figures are shown in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2: Public access venues by country, 2011
Country Population
Internet use1
(per 100,000 individuals)
# of PCs3
People per PC4
Bangladesh 142.3 4 5,656 4 52,035 2,735
Brazil 192.4 41 13,762 7.2 225,697 85
Chile 17.4 45 21,147 121.5 249,535 7
Ghana 24.2 10 511 2.1 5,723 43
Lithuania 3.2 62 1,390 43.4 N/A N/A
Philippines 97.6 25 23,078 23.6 426,943 23
Sources: Global Impact Study inventory, ITU 2012, Global Impact Study country research team reports.
1 – Internet use refers to percentage of individuals using the internet (ITU data).
2 – Density of public access venues (estimate based on inventory and population data)
3 – Number of PCs in public access venues (estimate based on survey and inventory data)
4 – Ratio in public access venues (estimate based on survey and inventory data)

No linear relationship is seen between public access to ICTs and overall connectivity.

As Table 3.2 shows, no linear relationship exists between a country’s overall connectivity and the extent of public access. To some extent, this may be due to the dynamism of the public access phenomenon. A detailed analysis would require a time-series to reveal the (non-linear) evolution of overall access to ICT and the trajectory of the public access phenomenon.

Countries with higher (private) connectivity (e.g., Chile and Lithuania) have a higher density of venues compared to countries with lower connectivity (e.g., Bangladesh and Ghana). In addition, they have a lower people-to-PC ratio in public access venues. In other words, they have higher private as well as public access. Within the lower connectivity group, however, Bangladesh has more public access but lower connectivity than Ghana. (Connectivity is measured by the overall percentage of internet users, shown in column two of Table 3.2.)[2] Similarly, in the high-connectivity group, Lithuania leads Chile in internet use but lags in density of public access. Each country has a unique configuration, the combined effect of the parallel evolution of its overall connectivity and public access systems.

The dynamic that emerges from this analysis is that some initial internet connectivity is necessary to kick-start the development of public access, and as that development gains strength it in turn promotes an increase in private access. This cyclic expansion of private and public access happens at different speeds in different countries. It also complements the observed trends of expanding connectivity — with initial penetration among high-income, high-education segments of the population followed by progressive extension to other population segments (also at different speeds in different countries). Societal and cultural norms also play a role, especially when public access offers advantages beyond those of private facilities. For instance, cybercafés are reported to have largely disappeared in Lithuania as connectivity increased, leaving only connected libraries for public access. This did not happen in Chile, perhaps for cultural reasons. Similarly, compared to Bangladesh, Chile has a longer history of public access and continues to have higher density, in spite of the increase in private access.

Public access venues are prevalent in urban areas.

While the inventories show that venues are spread throughout each country, their distribution is decidedly skewed in favor of big urban centers (Figure 3.2). This is particularly true for private venues of the cybercafé type. Considering the significant rural populations in the countries concerned, density by population is much higher in urban centers. This does not necessarily indicate a shortage of venues in rural areas: the surveys show that the busiest public access venues were found in urban centers. However, this does not mean that rural locations are adequately served either. Further investigation would be necessary to determine why rural venues tended to be less busy — venues could, for example, be located in sparsely populated areas.

As shown by other studies (e.g., Proenza, 2012), the problem of public access sustainability is generally much more acute in rural settings. This also relates to the type of venues as, generally speaking, the rural market cannot sustain cybercafés. The Global Impact Study surveys of public access venues across the five countries found that cybercafés were located mainly in areas of high economic activity (49%) and average economic activity (43%). Only 8% were located in isolated areas.

Figure 3.1: Proportion of urban public access venues
Figure 3.2: Proportion of urban public access venues


Note: Based on data from the inventories constructed for the Global Impact Study in 2011.Some of the peculiarities of these distributions (e.g., no rural venues in Chile) are attributable to the way urban and rural communities are defined in each country. (See Appendix 2 for country definitions.)

Cybercafés dominate public access landscape…but not everywhere.

The patterns of ownership that emerge from the inventories are diverse and interesting. Table 3.3 shows the prevalence in each country of venues by type of ownership. The “private” venues are typically cybercafés. The types of venues and their characteristics tend to be influenced by national idiosyncrasies, such as the gaming culture in Brazil, and by the stage of evolution of the public access phenomenon in each country.

Table 3.3: Ownership of public access venues, by country (%)
Privately owned Publicly funded NGO Other Total
Bangladesh* 18 1 5 76 100
Brazil 34 22 32 12 100
Chile 94 6 0 0 100
Ghana 83 16 1 0 100
Lithuania 2 95 2 1 100
Philippines 95 5 0 0 100
* Note: Venues in Bangladesh categorized as “other” are primarily quasi-public entities with mixed ownership

In Chile, a country with both high relative connectivity and high public access density, a key trend is the general predominance of private cybercafés — even though it is also the best known example of connected libraries (Biblioredes). The same pattern also holds for the Philippines, a country with low connectivity, and for Ghana, a country with relatively lower connectivity as well as lower density of public access venues.

In contrast, the public access landscape in Bangladesh is dominated by quasi-public entities, and the share of cybercafés is much smaller (under 20%). Public access venues have a shorter history in Bangladesh, and there are efforts underway to increase publicly-funded venues. The case of Brazil is different from all others, with more equal shares of privately and publicly owned venues. In the more developed countries, private (household or personal) access has matured to the point that many privately owned public access venues have closed down. However, this pattern may not prove true elsewhere. Moreover, the trajectory to high connectivity rates may take decades, in most low-income and middle-income countries. Finally, the study data indicate that public access is not a mere substitute for private (household or personal) access, and that there are functional reasons for long-term co-existence of public and private access (discussed in Chapters 7 and 9).

The profit motive is alive in public access.

Cybercafés are by definition private businesses, and since they represent the majority of public access venues in most countries, the presence of profit incentives in the provision of ICT services can be easily established (see Figure 3.3). Beyond that, however, the data show that even not-for-profit venues (telecenters and libraries) are affected by the need to realize financial returns, in that they often explicitly focus on recovering their costs and supporting new programs through user fees. Interestingly, in the case of Bangladesh, many non-private venues also operate as commercial enterprises (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3: Business mode of public access venues
Figure 3.3: Business mode of public access venues

Findings from the surveys


The survey of public access venues describes their characteristics and operations, including physical access and configuration, financing, staffing, and traffic. This section discusses some of these findings for Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines.

Independent cybercafés, affiliated telecenters

Public access venues, as independent organizational entities, can also be linked, either horizontally, through networks, or vertically, through ownership. These modes of organization correlate with the particular financing model.

Cybercafés are not often affiliated with a broader organization. Only 11% reported such affiliations, without much variation across countries. By and large, they operate as private businesses, without public funding. When asked about financial health, the vast majority of responding cybercafés reported that they were either making money (69%) or breaking even (23%), with only modest variations between countries. This reflects the reality that money-losing cybercafés generally do not survive. In contrast, a majority of telecenters (72%) reported having an affiliation with a larger organization. There was modest variance between countries, with the Philippines having by far the fewest affiliated telecenters (46%), while Chile had the most (96%).

Sources of funding

The implications for financial support were not always clear. Support for telecenters tended to come from a few key sources (Table 3.4). For three of the five surveyed countries, one of the main sources was government support: in the Philippines, almost all (92%) of the telecenters depended on government funds, as did the majority of telecenters in Chile and Brazil (86% and 76%, respectively). Conversely, most of Bangladesh’s telecenters did not depend on government support (84%), nor did a majority of Ghanaian telecenters (63%). NGO and grant support played a smaller role: on average, only 29% of telecenters credited NGOs and 15% credited grants as significant resources, although in Bangladesh 36% of responding telecenters said they depended on NGO support. Similarly, grants were an important source for about a third (34%) of Brazilian telecenters.

User/service fees were another important source for a majority of telecenters (56%). Telecenters in Bangladesh and Ghana, in particular, relied on this type of support (75% and 71%, respectively). For telecenters in Brazil and Chile, such fees were insignificant for a strong majority of venues (90% and 96%, respectively). Less important sources of support came from local communities and from other, unspecified sources. (See Table 3.4.).

Table 3.4: Top funding sources for telecenters, by country (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
User/service fees 56 75 11 5 71 46
Government support 38 16 76 86 36 92
NGO support 29 36 26 0 21 8
Grants 15 14 34 0 0 8
Community contributions 5 .7 13 23 0 0
Other 12 18 0 9 7 0
Note: n=236

For libraries, government support was by and large the most dominant form of support, with an average of 90% of responding libraries naming it as one of their top two sources. Other sources of support were far less common: 15% reported NGOs in the top two sources of funding, and 7% reported “other sources.” Community support was cited as an important funding source for only a negligible number of responding libraries. For libraries, unlike telecenters, usage fees were not a usual source of funding: 89% said that such fees were not important.

For cybercafés, user/service fees were critically important (96%). Minimal operational support was received from other sources, such as governments, NGOs, grants, or community contributions. Chile was an exception, with 18% of responding cybercafés indicating that community support played an important role.

Cybercafés have more computers than other venues, on average

Public access venues vary in size from very small shops, with a couple of computers, to very large establishments, able to accommodate tens of people at the same time, often bustling with activity. On average, cybercafés had the greatest number of computers for public use (14), followed by libraries (9) and then telecenters (7). The great majority of computers in each venue category was connected to the internet (Table 3.5). The lowest level of connectivity was in telecenters, with an average of 5 of 7 computers connected, reflecting the fact that in Bangladesh (where telecenters are predominant), less than half the computers had internet connections. In the other four countries, around 90% of computers were connected.

Table 3.5: Average number of computers in venues, all countries
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters Other
Computers for public use 12 9 14 7 8
Computers connected to the internet 11 8 14 5 7
Note: n=1,247

Libraries have newer computers

Libraries had proportionally more new computers than average, while cybercafés had fewer. More than half of telecenters in the venue survey did not answer the questions about the age of their computers, but those that responded indicated that their computers were a little more than two years old.

Power outages and other problemS

Reliability of service is a well-known issue in public access venues. Thus, venues surveyed were asked to report on the frequency of having at least one-quarter of computers unusable, and the reasons for it. Power outages were the top problem, reported by 81% of cybercafés, 73% of libraries, and 48% of telecenters. Other common problems related to internet connection problems, viruses, and computer hardware problems.

Cybercafés offer more options in venue configuration

Venue configuration showed a variety of models. Of the cybercafés, 41% were structured as private booths; 47% were open computing; and the remaining 12% were mixed, with both private booths and open computing. Among the libraries and telecenters, the vast majority of venues provided only open computing (96% and 88%, respectively). For telecenters, the variation between countries was substantial: the prevalence of open computing ranged from 57% in Ghana to 100% in Chile.

Cybercafés are less accessible than telecenters and libraries

Wheelchair access was reported to be good among 44% of telecenters, 47% of libraries, and 32% of cybercafés. Brazil had the greatest percentage of cybercafés reporting good wheelchair access (42%), followed by the Philippines (37%), Bangladesh (34%), Chile (24%), and Ghana (21%).

Infomediation is available in cybercafés

Public access to ICTs has an advantage over personal or home access in the area of infomediation and technical assistance — that is, the availability of knowledgeable people who can assist users with their ICT experiences. Conventionally, it is thought that cybercafé-type venues lack such resources, as compared to libraries and telecenters. However, the Global Impact Study found that cybercafés were on par with other venues regarding the average number of paid staff having skills to assist computer users with technical problems (averaging two for cybercafés, libraries, and telecenters).

Cybercafés were the least likely to have only paid staff: 71%, compared to 75% for telecenters and 89% for libraries. This may reflect the presence of entrepreneurs and their family members, who are technically not “paid” for their service. The higher tendency for libraries to have only paid staff may be explained by sustained government funding. Cybercafés and telecenters were similar in the percentage of only unpaid staff (16% of cybercafés and 18% of telecenters); just 3% of libraries had only unpaid staff.

The libraries surveyed averaged a similar number of paid male staff as other venues (around two), but more paid female staff members (three rather than just one).

Traffic and usage differ by country

The landscape of public access venues is diverse, with a variety of types, sizes, and locations. Public access venues have generally become integral parts of their communities and figure prominently in the lifestyle of many users. In a typical day, 62 users visited each venue on average, for all five countries of the surveys and across all venue types. Daily visits ranged from a high of 75 users in Brazil to a low of 53 in Ghana. Cybercafés tended to be busier than libraries, with an average of 66 users a day as compared to 44 for libraries (Table 3.6).

Table 3.6: Average number of daily visitors, in a typical week, by venue type and country
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters
All 62 44 66 60
Bangladesh 60 16 55 65
Brazil 75 45 79 66
Chile 55 63 66 30
Ghana 53 22 56 25
Philippines 68 48 71 12
Note: n=1,247

Most users visit public access venues several times a week. In general, the number of unique visitors per week is more than twice the number of daily visitors (Table 3.7). For example, the estimated number of unique visitors per week was 135 in Bangladesh (compared with 60 daily visitors), 179 in Brazil (compared to 75), and 127 in Chile (compared to 55).

Table 3.7: Average number of unique weekly visitors, by venue type and country
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters
All 91 88 78 135
Bangladesh 135 4 143 132
Brazil 177 218 168 215
Chile 127 101 158 118
Ghana 5 10 5 8
Philippines 9 7 9 4

Female users are a minority, but…

According to the survey of venue operators, women accounted for 29% of unique visitors per week, averaging across the countries and venue types of the survey (Table 3.8). Libraries had the highest proportion of female visitors at 47% of users, compared to 28% for cybercafés and 23% for telecenters. In Chile and Brazil, unique weekly female users were almost at par with males (48% across all venues). Female users were a minority of users in Bangladesh (10%) and Ghana (14%).[3]

In Chile, women represented a majority of library users (54%) and telecenter users (53%). In telecenters in both Brazil and the Philippines, women users exceeded men, at 55%. Women users were less prevalent in cybercafés, ranging from a high of 46% (Brazil) to a low of 9% (Bangladesh).

Table 3.8: Average proportion of females among unique visitors per week (%)
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters
All 29 47 28 23
Bangladesh 10 11 9 10
Brazil 48 39 46 55
Chile 48 54 41 53
Ghana 14 15 14 13
Philippines 34 39 32 55
Note: n=1,247

User profiles

This section is based on the User Profile paper (2012), which captures the results of the user survey. The following analysis is based on the distribution of the surveyed users and does not refer to the (unknown) true distribution of public access users in the countries of the study.

Public access users are young

Overwhelmingly, the public access users surveyed in all five countries were young, corroborating previous research. A large proportion of users were under the age of 25 (Figure 3.4). In the Philippines, in particular, these young users accounted for as much as 85% of the total. The lowest proportion was in Chile, though still a majority, at 56% of surveyed users.

While the age distribution of users differed by country, the highest percentages overall were the 16–19 and the 20–25 age groups (Table 3.9).[4] However, there was also a sizeable presence of young people in the 12–15 age range. This was particularly prominent in the Philippines (23%) and Brazil (21%) and much lower in Bangladesh and Chile. This is indicative of a large number of young children whose upbringing includes public access venues.

…but older users are present too

Figure 3.4: Public access venue users under the age of 25
Figure 3.4: Public access venue users under the age of 25

In Bangladesh, the distribution of users is generally tilted more towards older ages, and a substantial proportion of users (28%) are in the 25–34 age bracket. Somewhat lower percentages were seen in Brazil and Chile, at about one-fifth. There is also a sizeable group of users in the 35–49 age group, particularly in Chile (16%) and Bangladesh (10%). Users over the age of 50 were few, with the exception of Chile, where they accounted for approximately 7%. (See Table 3.9.)

Table 3.9: Users of public access venues, by age (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
12–15 13 5 21 8 8 23
16–19 27 23 28 26 23 37
20–24 28 32 23 22 35 25
25–34 21 28 19 21 27 10
35–49 9 10 7 16 6 5
>50 2 2 2 7 1 .4
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,997

Public access users are educated

Across all countries, there were very few individuals with no formal schooling, and a very high percentage have college or university degrees (Table 3.10). The percentage of users with post-secondary or tertiary education was 22% in Brazil, 35% in Chile, 40% in Ghana, 56% in the Philippines, and more than 70% in Bangladesh (partially explained by the higher proportion of older individual venue users in Bangladesh). These statistics show that the education level of public access venue users is much higher than the overall distribution in each country.

Table 3.10: Users of public access venues, by education (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
No schooling 2 3 6 1 .4 .4
Primary 16 7 34 18 18 5
Secondary 37 19 38 47 42 39
Post-secondary 14 31 8 18 7 7
Tertiary 31 40 14 16 33 49
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,973

Many users are still students

The education level of users is related to age. Many venue users are still students — more than 50% in Bangladesh and Ghana, around 40% in Chile and Brazil, and 35% in the Philippines (Table 3.11). The percentages are much higher at younger ages. These young users, already better educated, may go on to the next level of higher education, widening their difference as a group from non-users.

Table 3.11: Proportion of students in each user age group (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
12-15 77 98 86 100 91 53
16-19 68 93 54 81 86 44
20-24 42 65 17 46 49 22
25-34 15 14 9 15 23 8
35-49 2 1 1 .6 5 2
>50 1 0 0 0 11 0
Total proportion of student users 44 51 37 42 51 35
Note: n=4,950

… the rest are working

Public access users are economically and socially engaged. An overwhelming majority of all users are either employed (full-time or part-time) or full-time students (Figure 3.5).

Figure 3.5: Proportion of students and employed users
Figure 3.5: Proportion of students and employed users

Among the employed, most are full-time, accounting for more than one-quarter of all public access venue users in Brazil, almost 20% in Bangladesh and Chile, and 15% in the Philippines. Self-employed users represented about 16% in Bangladesh, 12% in Chile, 11% in Brazil, and 6% in the Philippines.

Public access users come from families with lower to middle incomes

Public access venues were initially regarded as a way to reduce digital exclusion: people without digital access could use computers and the internet at public access venues, either free of charge or at an affordable price. More recent research suggests that it is in fact the relatively well-to-do who frequent public access venues, and that these venues do not serve the very poor (Cecchini & Raina, 2004; Haseloff, 2005; Amariles, Paz, Russell, & Johnson, 2006; Mercer, 2006; Kuriyan & Toyama, 2007; Parkinson & Lauzon, 2008).

The data from the surveys show that generally users are of middle-income backgrounds. Brazil illustrates this pattern. For the very poorest income group — families with no income or with one minimal salary — the proportion of venue users (5%) is much lower than their overall percentage in the population (14%) (CGI, 2009). Similarly, at the top end of the income ladder, households with incomes more than ten times the minimum salary represent 7% of public access users, as compared to 10% of the total population. Most other groups show a similar pattern (CGI, 2009). However, families with two to three times the minimum salary — the lower middle-income group — are much more widely represented in public access venues (31%) than their percentage in the Brazilian population (17%) (CGI, 2009).

For analytic purposes, a “middle-income” metric was established, set at five times the poverty line for Bangladesh, Brazil, and the Philippines, and at the average household income level (2009) for Chile. There are very high concentrations of venue users below the metric (Figure 3.6). Ghana is an exception, with a majority of users reporting household incomes below the poverty line, though this may not be a reliable reflection of household income.

Figure 3.6: Proportion of users from low- and middle-income families
Figure 3.6: Proportion of users from low- and middle-income families

In addition to income level, the survey captured complementary socioeconomic information. The majority of public access users live in families that own their home: nearly three-quarters in Bangladesh, more than 70% in Chile and the Philippines, 60% in Brazil, and just over 50% in Ghana. Most of the other users rent homes, although Brazil, Ghana, and the Philippines show sizeable proportions who occupy dwellings without payment (14%, 11%, and 10%, respectively). In general, public access users’ homes have basic amenities such as electricity, as well as possessions such as TVs, satellites, and cars.

A substantial number have computers at home, often with internet connections — well in excess of their country’s average in many cases. (See Table 3.12.) In Brazil, for example, home internet access among venue users was an impressive 41%, compared with the 24% national average (2009). Even in the Philippines, Ghana, and Bangladesh, venue users’ connectivity levels were well above the average for these countries.

Table 3.12: Household ownership of computer and internet connection (%)
Computer Internet connection
All 56 28
Bangladesh 36 14
Brazil 62 41
Chile 76 34
Ghana 66 27
Philippines 42 25
Note: n=4,979

Most public access users own a mobile phone

Mobile phones are now broadly available throughout the developing world, prompting some to wonder whether they might obviate the need for public access venues. The user surveys confirmed that almost all public access venue users (96%) have access to a mobile phone within their household (Table 3.13). For most of them, using a mobile phone is not a novelty: 60% of public access venue users first used a mobile phone over five years ago, and the vast majority (88%) reported using a mobile phone daily or almost daily (Table 3.14). While there were minor variations between countries, the universal availability and use of mobile phones by public access venue users is remarkably consistent across the countries in this study.

Table 3.13: Household ownership of a mobile phone (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
96 96 95 95 98 96
Note: n=4,977
Table 3.14: Frequency of mobile phone use (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Daily or Almost Daily 88 91 83 88 91 87
At Least Once a Week 7 5 13 8 3 7
At Least Once a Month 2 2 2 2 2 2
A Few Times a Year .5 .3 .5 .5 .4 .8
Never 3 2 2 2 4 4
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,955

most public access venue users do not access internet on a mobile phone

Fifty-eight percent of public access venue users reported they had never used the internet on a mobile phone (Table 3.15). Overall, only 16% use the mobile internet more or less daily. There is substantial country variation: in Chile, 71% reported never having used the internet on a mobile phone, while in Ghana, almost the same proportion (73%) said they have used the mobile internet, including 56% who use it daily or weekly.

Table 3.15: Frequency of internet use on a mobile phone (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Daily or Almost Daily 16 15 11 5 36 13
At Least Once a Week 13 10 10 6 20 15
At Least Once a Month 6 5 3 7 8 6
A Few Times a Year 7 3 10 11 9 6
Never 58 67 66 71 27 60
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,778

These data suggest that mobile phones are not a substitute for public access. An in-depth study examines in more detail the question of whether mobile internet should be seen as a complement or a substitute for other forms of access (Walton & Donner, 2012).

Options are not plentiful

For many users, public access venues are the only option they have to access ICTs, and particularly the internet. In most countries, this is true of a high percentage of users, especially in Chile, despite its overall high connectivity. Despite the stereotype of well-to-do users, the reality is that public access venues constitute the only option for many.

However, the data also document other reasons for the use of public access venues, beyond basic access to ICTs. Many users go to the venues to use better equipment, to get help from venue staff or others, and, to a large extent, to work with or be with friends or other people (Table 3.16). There may also be other reasons not captured here, such as competition with family members and limited freedom at home. The digital divide does not by itself explain the use of public access venues.

Table 3.16: Main reason for using public access venues (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
No other option for computer access 15 16 8 9 11 15
No other option for internet access 33 35 15 44 47 33
To work or be with friends or other people 18 17 29 8 14 24
To get help from other users 2 1 4 2 3 2
To get help from venue staff 7 9 4 2 4 2
Better equipment than home or work 15 17 29 16 15 15
Other 10 5 11 19 6 9
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,790

Location matters

The vast majority of users live close to the public access venues they visit. Table 3.17 shows their distribution by country and by distance from the venue they usually visit. (The results were similar when users were asked how far they lived from the venue where they were interviewed.) In each country, a plurality live within one kilometer of the venue. In Chile and Ghana, over 80% live within two kilometers, as do more than 85% in Bangladesh and the Philippines. Only in Brazil do a substantial number of users venture more than five kilometers from home.

Table 3.17: Distance from residence to usual public access venue (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
< 1 km 58 58 46 60 62 66
1–2 km 22 27 16 21 22 19
3–5 km 10 8 15 8 10 8
> 5 km 10 7 23 11 6 7
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,204

Most are Frequent users

The vast majority of venue users can be characterized as systematic users: going to public access venues is not a rare event but rather a defining feature of their routines. A great number report going to venues daily or almost daily, ranging from one-third in Chile to one-half in the Philippines (Table 3.18). Including users who visit venues at least weekly, systematic users represent more than three-fourths of users in Chile, close to 80% in Brazil, over 80% in Bangladesh, and over 90% in the Philippines. Frequency has an impact on the relative types and frequencies of activities users engage in. (See Chapter 5 on the social and economic impacts of public access use.)

Table 3.18: Frequency of public access venue visits (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Daily or almost 41 38 41 33 41 50
At least once a week 43 45 38 43 47 43
At least once a month 10 12 13 11 8 4
A few times a year 6 5 8 13 4 3
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=4,583

Public access users are not inexperienced

Users’ levels of experience in using computers and the internet vary widely, generally reflecting the stage and rapidity of ICT adoption in each country: Chile, not surprisingly, has more experienced users than Bangladesh. Less than 10% of users have less than one year of computer experience in Brazil, Ghana, and the Philippines. In Chile the percentage of such novice users is less than 5%, compared to Bangladesh with close to 30% (Table 3.17). Users with over three years of experience account for more than 70% of users in the Philippines, around 75% in Brazil and Ghana, and more than 85% in Chile. In Bangladesh, almost one-fifth are new users (mostly computer users).

Table 3.19: Experience with computers, users of public access venues (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
<6 months 9 24 5 4 6 4
7–12 months 3 6 4 1 2 3
1–2 years 16 23 13 6 17 17
3–5 years 23 18 20 19 26 34
>5 years 49 29 58 70 49 42
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Note: n=5,005

Interestingly, not many of the young users (in the 12–15 and 16–19 age groups) are among the new users. The percentage of young users (12–15) with less than one year of experience is highest in Bangladesh, with about 17%. More generally, that percentage ranges from around 13% in the Philippines to under 5% in Chile. Many new users are in the older age ranges, particularly in Chile and Brazil, where recent national policies encourage public ICT usage by older population groups.

Overall, the figures give the profile of rather experienced users, as well as indicating a continuous inflow of new users. These are signs that the use of public access has not peaked. Coupled with demographics that are heavily skewed towards youth and the slow increase in home connectivity, this profile points to the future viability and usefulness of public access ICT venues.

Years of experience do not necessarily translate to high skills: around 60% of users in Bangladesh and the Philippines report that their skills in using computers are less than good, as do more than 30% in Brazil and Chile (Table 3.18). These percentages reflect the youth of the users and, even more, the numbers of new users and the lack of formal training.

Table 3.20: Self-assessment of skills by public access venue users (%)
All Bangladesh Brazil Chile Ghana Philippines
Self-assessment of computer skills (n=4,989)
Poor 8 18 6 6 2 7
Fair 34 43 25 24 24 56
Good 42 33 44 54 47 31
Very good 16 6 25 16 27 6
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100
Self-assessment of internet skills (n=4,673)
Poor 7 19 4 5 1 7
Fair 30 39 19 20 22 51
Good 44 34 40 57 49 36
Very good 19 8 37 18 28 6
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

Services and usage

This section presents a summary of findings regarding the services offered by public access venues, as well as the usage of such services.

Public access venues offer a multitude of services

Data from the venue survey indicate that public access venues provide their patrons with a wide range of services (Figure 3.7). In addition to internet access (offered by 99% of venues), the most common services were printing (88%), scanning (69%), CD writing (52%), and document preparation (50%).

Figure 3.7: Services offered at public access venues (all venues)
Figure 3.7: Services offered at public access venues (all venues)

Libraries offer a different mix of value-added services

While internet usage and printing tended to be consistently high across all venues, there was considerable variability in other services that perhaps affects users’ choices (Table 3.19). A much higher percentage of libraries and telecenters were offering in-house training (about 57% for each) compared to cybercafés (10%). Similarly, job placement services were offered by 55% of telecenters and 46% of libraries but only 19% of cybercafés. Libraries were much more likely than other venue types to offer assistance with online services, such as eGovernment and eBanking (39%), eHealth and eCommerce, and web design for users (25%, compared to 8% among cybercafés and 4% among telecenters). Libraries were also more likely to offer space for social interaction (20%, compared to just over 7% for cybercafés and telecenters). As well, proportionally more libraries were catering to people with disabilities, as indicated by the availability of specialized hardware and software. On the other hand, food and video arcade games were more commonly offered in cybercafés (28% and 21%, respectively) than at other venue types (at around 5% or less).

Table 3.21: Services offered by public access venues (%)
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters
Internet usage on venue computer 97 96 99 90
Printing 88 78 94 76
Scanning 69 52 78 52
CD writing 52 39 53 52
Document preparation for users 50 44 45 68
Job placement 30 45 19 55
Wi-Fi/Ethernet for personal computers 30 30 34 8
Tech support or computer repair for personal computers 25 12 30 16
Training (in-house) 25 57 10 57
Availability of food and beverages 20 4 28 3
Video or arcade games 16 3 22 5
Sales of computer parts or products 16 2 20 10
e-Government services provided by the venue or venue network 14 52 6 15
Training (access to online courses) 14 52 6 17
Assistance with online services, such as e-Government and e-Banking 10 39 6 6
Social area for relaxing 9 20 7 7
Web design for users 9 25 8 4
e-Health services provided by the venue or venue network 8 19 5 9
e-Commerce services provided by the venue or venue network 7 20 4 7
Hardware/software for people with disabilities 5 13 4 4
Hardware rental 4 1 4 6
Note: n=4,761. User fees are the norm.

Many of the services offered tended to come with usage fees. The services that most commonly had fees (across all venue types) were printing (91%), photocopying (78%), scanning (89%), internet usage on venue computers (84%), and CD writing (78%).[5] Services least likely to require fees were eCommerce (11%), eHealth (12%), social area for relaxing (14%), hardware/software for people with disabilities (16%), and e99Government (17%).

When venue patrons were asked what services they used (besides venue computers), the top items were value-added services: printing (70%), photocopying/scanning (57%), and CD writing (39%). These are services that were much less likely to require a fee at libraries than at cybercafés and telecenters.

Users often seek Information

Among users in public access venues, 47% indicated they went to the venue looking for specific information.[6] Information-seeking behavior was higher among visitors to libraries (56%), but users of telecenters and cybercafés were not far behind, at 47% and 46% respectively (Table 3.20).

Again, user behavior varied by country. The country with the highest proportion of individuals seeking specific information was the Philippines (56%), while Brazil was the lowest (28%). There are also country usage differences relating to type of venue. For instance, whereas 89% of individuals in libraries in the Philippines indicated they went to the venue for specific information, only 22% of Brazilian library-goers went to look for specific information. In Chile, the venues with the highest percentage of people indicating that they were looking for specific information were telecenters (70%).

Table 3.22: Users seeking specific information, by venue (%)
All Libraries Cybercafés Telecenters
All countries 47 56 46 47
Bangladesh 50 56 53 47
Brazil 28 22 27 33
Chile 49 51 46 70
Ghana 46 44 48 32
Philippines 56 89 53 64
Note: n=4,576

Education tops the list of information sought

Of those individuals who went to the venue looking for specific information, the majority indicated they were looking for education information (58%) followed by entertainment (43%) and employment and business opportunities (32%). No other type of information had more than 15% of individuals searching for it. Chapters 4 and 5 take a closer look at usage patterns in the priority domains and for priority populations of the research.


Data from the Global Impact Study inventory and surveys, complemented with outside sources, portray a complex landscape of public access venues with different business models and services. The types of venues and their characteristics tend to be influenced by national backgrounds and therefore differ between countries. And although the study found that most users are young and highly educated and come from middle income backgrounds, the user story is also complex, with youth, adults, males, females, workers, and more all represented in varying degrees, depending on the country and/or type of venue.

Along with this mosaic of distinct user groups, the study found that actual usage in venues is also quite diversified. Users engage in a variety of activities, including tasks they undertake on behalf of others (non-users). Detailed usage analysis of the different user groups — by age, gender, experience, location, or other characteristics — can provide a perspective on impacts.

Among the range of activities performed at public access venues, information access is an especially important, and perhaps irreplaceable, function of public access venues. Information-seeking behavior was highest among users in libraries, but patrons at all venue types reported using the venues to find specific information, particularly around education, entertainment, and employment and business opportunities. For many individuals, public access venues the only avenue to computer access; for many others, the venues provide unique services and opportunities that cannot be substituted by home computer use or mobile phones.

  1. See: Sciadas, G., with Lyons, H., Rothschild, C., & Sey, A. (2012). Public access to ICTs: Sculpting the profile of users. Seattle: Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School.
  2. The density of connected PCs is lower than the density of public access, as some PCs in public access venues are not connected to the internet.
  3. This situation is more pronounced in rural areas due to cultural norms, as discussed in the User Profile paper (2012). But note that, in Bangladesh, “infoladies” make house visits, so females are not necessarily deprived of access to public access venue services. This variation should be accounted for in future research.
  4. The age distribution of users as reported by venue owners/operators is roughly similar to that shown in Table 3.9.
  5. These data reflect venues that indicated the services are available. Venues without the services are omitted from the analysis.
  6. Note that the question asked specifically about the day of the interview, not going to venues in general. Therefore, the numbers do not reflect the proportion of people who ever seek information at public access venues. That value is certainly higher than that for an activity on a particular day.


Connecting people for development: Why public access ICTs matter Copyright © 2013 by Technology & Social Change Group, University of Washington Information School. All Rights Reserved.


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