Just listened to another great episode of Peter Day’s BBC business show, this with Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister of Afghanistan, who said that when he came in, the entire country had 100 cell phones. Today there are 4 million. The telecom industry is the No. 1 producer of tax revenue in the country. It has enabled open markets where buyers and sellers can avoid middlemen, as elsewhere in the developing world. When there was a possible stalemate in constitutional discussions a few years ago, Ghani said constituents used their phones to call their representatives to make it clear they wanted a deal done and he believes this political connectivity helped bring it to pass. And he said that people are simply more efficient because they no longer need to journey three days to go find out whether Mom is fine; they can now just phone home. Connectivity is a platform for society. (If only our phone and cable companies saw it that way.)

  • Carson

    About ten years ago when the Thai government dredged and straightened the river downstream from Bangkok, the government offered various forms of compensating aid to the rice farmers impacted by this activity: roads, water service, school investments, clinics, etc. The farmers met and returned with the request that the government provide them with cell phones and the ability to get the spot price on rice. They knew they were being taken advantage of by the larger buyers but without information and the ability to communicate more broadly they couldn’t get market information and they couldn’t find alternative marketing options. Interestingly, they told the government, if they were provided with this service (essentially cell infrastructure), they felt they would be able to afford the other things the government had offered and more — they wouldn’t be nearly as dependent. I was in Thailand not long after this and found this story to be so moving — and it was fun to hear of the government’s surprise at the request: they were surprised the farmers were that ‘savvy’ that they would know enough of both the technology and economic benefit that it would be at the top of their “wish list.”

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