Program to ‘Spice’ Up Information Via Mobiles

In an effort to deliver more information quickly to Cambodians countrywide, the U.S. government’s international development arm, USAID, has partnered with local technology NGO Open Institute to create a voice-based Khmer Internet service, officials announced Friday.

The program, Structuring Partnerships for an Innovative Communications Environment (SPICE), works by allowing registered users to upload audio files of information that they recorded to an interactive voice response system online that would then be accessed through mobile phones by dialing a specific number. The caller is charged a per-minute rate.

“Think of it as voice websites. Anyone can put up information that users can access by listening to it through their phones,” said Javier Sola, chief of party for SPICE and program director at the Open Institute. “We’re trying to eliminate barriers to access information and help give that information on demand.”

SPICE, which is scheduled to launch on February 10, could be used to disseminate educational materials, government announcements and health information, he added.

“A person can upload information about diseases, and someone could call in, press 1 to listen to information about malaria, press 2 to listen to information about dengue, or press 3 and the call will be routed to a doctor,” said Mr. Sola.

The registered users, or content providers, of SPICE earn a profit by associating their content with a pay-per-minute phone number, and the revenue is then shared between the content provider and mobile operator.

“Some NGOs who want to give out information will likely choose a $0.05 per minute phone number. But if content has a lot of value and I think people are willing to pay for it, then I can put it on a $0.20 per minute telephone number,” said Mr. Sola.

But for SPICE to work, it must rely on at least one of Cambodia’s 10 mobile operators to push the program to subscribers—none of which had inked a deal as of Friday.

“We are in talks, but I cannot say what direction we are going,” said Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt.

Mr. Sola said he is confident that at least one operator will join the program by its anticipated launch date.

“This isn’t innovative technology, but an innovative use of technology. And some operators seem welcoming,” he said.

The $1 million, two-year program also is investigating the use of text messages and smartphone apps to disseminate information.

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