July 2, 2007 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
Funded from the 2,847 million Euro budget (approximately $386.62 million) of the Greek Information Society Framework Program, e-Trikala is more than a city getting wired up. Rather, city officials say the program's goal is to use various information and communications technology (ICT)-based applications to simplify administration, reduce telecommunication costs and deliver new services to improve everyday life.
"It also aims to offer new ways and methods to make citizens participate in policymaking," said George Vallas, the project's IT systems administration manager.
Two applications, Demosthenes and e-Dialogos, exemplify how e-Trikala - which began rollout in October 2005 - seeks to engage citizens. With Demosthenes (which means "citizen's force") constituents can lodge complaints or report city problems using an online application; e-Dialogos, an e-mail voting application, lets residents participate in local government decisions.
Since e-Trikala's primary objective is to make Trikalans active participants in the municipality's digital affairs, promotion of broadband use was the first project implemented in late December 2006, said Thomas Kalkanis, e-Trikala's former project manager. This includes free wireless access to the Internet for residents, as well as introduction of new technologies (like DSL) and installation of kiosks in public locations, which has publicized the advantages of broadband usage to Trikalans.
Other notable projects are the digitization of the Trikala library -- to make it one of the 30 selected libraries of the Greek National Network of Public Libraries -- and a Tele-care Center for disadvantaged groups of people under the distanced support of specialized work force. The Tele-care network includes a call center with emergency communication devices that track emergency calls from residents and forwards them to the nearest hospital for instant attention.
The Chosen One
But why was Trikala chosen as the first city in Greece to be wired up? The reason is pretty much the one that drives wireless initiatives in many of the smaller cities around the world. Being a medium-sized city, Trikala doesn't attract enough private initiatives, hence "the municipality's involvement to bridge the digital gap was vital," Kalkanis said.
The services are free to users, and the municipality bears all implementation and running costs. Global IT and telecom companies like TelePassport in South Africa, Cisco, Ericsson and the local telecom company, Algosystems, sponsored the project.
"The involvement of these companies, however, is just limited to partial-funding of capital equipment," Kalkanis said. "There's no interference or involvement in the day-to-day operational expenses like network maintenance or staff salaries, etc."
The city has also launched an additional advertising revenue model of sorts in which a sponsoring company would be allowed add its name -- such as "e-Trikala-TelePassport" -- to some of the ICT applications for a fee; the money would then be used to fund nodes. In addition, the e-Trikala home page runs advertisements and promotional banners. "This income is utilized for the network's further development," Kalkanis said.
According to the project office, more than 10 nodes