I believe a challenge worth pursuing is to replace all telecommunications operators with a web of local meshed communications systems. Where long haul backbones are required these can be provided by National Governments: the natural monopoly holders of last resort. To me this seems like the most basic of tools for empowerment of communities. I believe Onno Purbo has shown the way with his model of “Bottom Up Self-Finance Community Based Approach”. He emphasizes that the people in a community can manage their own upliftment if they tap into the financial resources which they already have to exploit the resource sharing that ICT can enable. He argues that the “champions” in this case are the younger people from the community. He draws a distinction between the members of the community who talk and listen (that is, older, semi-literate and resistant to change) and the younger generation.
So the challenge is to develop a very low-cost communication system that is locally self-sustaining and has the potential for national and inter-national connectivity.
How? Not exactly sure: there are many alternatives to centrally provided communications services. In fact the whole notion of a single national telecommunications operator seems curiously anachronistic in the Internet age.
Why? Because I think mobile telcos are becoming an impediment to further development just like their fixed line predecessors.
The mobile phone operators have put up a scaffold for development. It is time to thank them but to stand free from them. From now on they are turning into a burden. Many people are beginning to comment on this in their blogs: William Easterly, Steve Song, and Richard Heeks.
People are spending all their extra disposable income on mobile access. This money is leaving the community and is not fed back into local businesses. Mobile service provision under the current model is a natural monopoly and as we put more and more services onto this monopoly (take banking) we are handing more and more power to these monopolies: not a healthy situation.