Chapter 10: Inverse Telecommunications: The Future for Rural Areas in Developing Countries?
Rudi Westerveld INTRODUCTION Access to telecommunication technologies in developing countries, particularly in rural areas, is often poor. Incumbent operators lack interest in this market, where profits are low and infrastructure maintenance difficult. Moreover, past operator-driven efforts have not been successful. This makes it difficult to envisage how telecommunications and information technologies (ICTs) should play the catalyzing role in the economic development of rural areas in developing countries, something for which the United Nations is hoping (UN 2008). The question posed in this chapter is whether ‘inverse’ telecommunication infrastructures, that is, bottom-up, self-organized, user-driven and decentralized developments (Egyedi et al. 2007), could at least partly fill this gap in service provision. Could inverse initiatives play a pre-eminent role in providing access to telecommunication and Internet services, thereby contributing to the economic development of rural areas? Could they succeed where operatordriven initiatives did not? The question has a high relevance, as the below news items about the Dabba initiative illustrate (Box 10.1). They describe a serious conflict between an incumbent operator (Telkom) and a bottom-up telecom initiative (Dabba) in South Africa. Apparently, in the period concerned, Dabba’s initiative is starting to take off and harm the established interests of Telkom. The news items accuse Telkom of calling in the help of the South African regulatory authority (ICASA) to block Dabba’s inverse infrastructure developments. The news items mention the lack of affordable telecommunication provisions in an area relatively close to Johannesburg. This lack of access is even worse in the more rural and...
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