If you are like me, you had a warm feeling when Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize. It showed that great ideas that help poor people do not involve charity and pop stars trying to get publicity – they involve giving hard-working energetic people new opportunities. You probably also (should) know about Dr Yunus’ Village Phone project, which also shows how important communications can be to changing the lives of the poorest. And those guys over at Wikipedia also deserve a regular pat on the back for trying to give everyone in the world a very good free encyclopedia.
I think any telecoms professional should take note of the valuable research work being done by my old pal Pippa Biggs at the ITU http://www.itu.int/wisr/ . If, like me, you think access to communications is vital to increasing quality of life and chances for the world’s poorest, as well as being a cornerstone for liberty, you will want to understand how the cost and difficulty of getting access to communications varies across the globe.
However, I sometimes also wonder about the morality of the big international telcos. Take a look at their financial accounts and you often see something rather depressing – the world’s poor are subsidising the world’s rich. Take a look at the financial accounts of C&W and for many years you would see the same pattern – significant losses and failed investments in the UK which were repeatedly bailed out by the big profits and cash inflows from their operations in the developing world. The Bulldog fiasco was the very last example of an investment folly funded by the world’s poor before they split C&W’s business into UK and rest of the world (presumably to force the UK management to really deal with its problems in its biggest market). The money poured into Bulldog’s LLU program came out of the pockets of customers in the Caribbean, Panama and Asia – customers who often had little or no choice of supplier. Just remember that when you read how C&W’s management describe their plans to turn around the business when they announce their interim results this week. They will not be mentioning how much worse it would have been without taking a subsidy from the world’s poor.