This new set of questions is intriguing. I am not sure I agree with the
direction of the questions and the focus on magic bullet technologies.

First, I submit that the focus of efforts should be on policy,
particularly universal access policy. IDRC's Acacia programme, DFID's
CATIA programme and USAID's DOT-COM programme have all begun to focus
new efforts on policy. This is where the real gains will be made.

CATIA in particular is opening up opportunities to improve telecom
policy across Africa in the areas of VSAT access, Internet exchange
points, civil society participation in shaping telecom policy, positive
policy environments for radio broadcasting (particularly community
radio), and institutional strengthening for institutions that affect
policy. See

DOT-COM is enhancing policy related synergies among its NGO, education
and policy/regulatory reform initiatives - one of its programmes in
southern Africa, the SADC-TRASA collaborative workshop on Rural Access
and Universal Service "resulted in the first formal bonding of industry,
NGOs and government in an "ICT coalition" to consider implications of a
Universal Services Fund." See

IDRC's Acacia II Prospectus highlights 10 lessons learned during the
first phase of Acacia. Lesson number 1: "Policy is key... ICT policy
development requires positive support at the highest level of political
leadership, and the creation of policy frameworks - especially as
regards infrastructure and rural connectivity - is key to success." 

Related to the policy dimension is the concept of "technological
neutrality". I am VERY wary of efforts to promote magic bullet
technologies - through policy or through project funding. Technological
neutrality is central to universal access policy - policies and
regulations should neither unfairly advantage nor disadvantage one
technology over another. Instead, technical choices should be driven by
quality of service standards, not by arbitrary technical standards or
the technology flavour of the month. The market is the best mechanism
to determine technological solutions - it may not always select the
"best" technologies, but it is very good at selecting technologies that
people are actually willing and able to pay for. The policy environment
supports the market by introducing and sustaining measures to promote a
competitive, multi-operator environment. As an example, according to
the European Community, the goal of the "technological neutrality"
principle is "not to impose, nor discriminate in favor of, the use of a
particular type of technology, but to ensure that the same service is
regulated in an equivalent manner, irrespective of the means by which it
is delivered." Such a policy can go a long way to ensuring that
consumers have access to such things as IP networks for voice, and other
technological convergences which may emerge, which can significantly
reduce the cost of providing universal access.

With regard to funding programs that target specific technologies, I
have yet to see one example of a "promising" technology emerge from such
a program to achieve broad adoption. At the same time, I have seen many
examples of indigenous entrepreneurs adapting themselves to the policy
environment to introduce technologies that fit market conditions. If
anything, we need a great deal more research directed at sharing the
lessons learned and technological innovations of indigenous
entrepreneurs who work in real world and real market contexts - other
than policy, that's where I would put my money.

US FCC Chairman Michael Powell once said, "Government [this could also
read the donor community!!!] is a notoriously bad investor. It tends to
buy high and sell low when it comes to predicting technology winners and
losers. One lesson from all of this is that we should be careful [not]
to embrace too quickly any one technology or service." In essence,
policy environments and program/projects environments that favour a
particular technology to the exclusion of others can delay the advance
of universal access infrastructure by distorting the economics of
deployment in challenging markets. For example, one need only look at
the experiences of donor-driven telecentres to see examples of
financially unsustainable donor entities actually competing with local
entrepreneurs and their home grown cybercafes.

Don Richardson, PhD.
TeleCommons Development Group
Stantec Consulting
361 Southgate Drive
Guelph, Ontario
N1G 3M5
Tel: 519-836-6050; Fax: 519-836-2493
Web: or

This DOT-COM Discussion is funded by the dot-ORG USAID Cooperative
Agreement, and hosted by GKD. provides
more information.
To post a message, send it to: <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send a message to:
<[EMAIL PROTECTED]>. In the 1st line of the message type:
subscribe gkd OR type: unsubscribe gkd
For the GKD database, with past messages:

Reply via email to