On 11/25/2003, Global Knowledge Dev. Moderator wrote:

> Many GKD members have argued that the for-profit private sector must 
> play a key role in expanding access to underserved communities. The 
> notion is appealing.

At the outset, let me state that I operate as an entrepreneur, mainly
because the regulatory environment for public trusts in India is not
very good. However, the work we do and the technology solutions we
promote are almost completely focused on developmental issues, and I do
not see any conflict of interest here. Of course, we don't make a lot of
money either, and that is because we find ourselves shut out from
several funding opportunities. I also have found some NGOs reluctant to
deal with a for-profit, because it affects their own funding proposals.

> 1. What specific elements does a policy environment need in order to 
> encourage the private sector to expand access to poor, isolated, 
> underserved areas? Where do such policies exist?

The first part is a challenging question. To my mind, policies do not
drive access, demand does. Private companies will step in to supply
against demand if there is sufficient possibility of a profit in doing
so.

Having said that, policies can and do work to *prevent* such a supply
situation from being created, or even the demand situation. In India,
for instance, currently the use of VoIP with termination within the POTS
system (and that includes cellular and WiLL telephony) is banned, thus
depriving half a billion people from access to cheaper and possibly
affordable telephony. Without the experience of telephony, users are
deprived of the ability to demand, and providers to devise, more
imaginative uses for it (than POTS, that is).

> 2. What lessons have we learned about the risks and rewards of 
> creating public-private partnerships to expand access to the 
> underserved? Where have these lessons been applied, and where have 
> they worked?

Businesses are driven primarily by the profit motive. Unless there is a
significant change in market mechanisms (and this is one place - perhaps
the only place - that policies can make a difference) this situation
will continue.

To look at lessons in expanding access, I can suggest the experience of
'community' radio in Nepal, where several stations have been established
in difficult areas, where opposing political groups routinely employ
violence to further their cause.

In India, several rural development groups are attempting to deploy
better microbanking systems, using a hybrid combination of physical
access and electronic data capture. In the absence of higher
availability of electricity and low cost computers and networks
(connectivity) this must be the only practical solution.

> 3. What are specific, unexploited opportunities for public-private 
> partnerships to expand access to the underserved? Please provide 
> examples where these opportunities can be exploited effectively.

I have a little earlier suggested voice mail systems deployed over
smartphones using cellular and WiLL networks. To develop such a system
needs private-public partnering, even if the actual cost of software is
met through development in publicly owned facilities such as
universities. Actually, the cost of development is trivial, the
deployment needs a large investment, and I am not aware of any such
investment ever being made in the past by a public agency for promoting
access.

> 4. What concrete lessons have we learned about stimulating/supporting
> local businesses to extend access to the underserved? Please be
> specific. Where have these lessons been applied effectively?

The example of hybrid microbanking systems is a very good one, I 
believe. The reports I have read indicate that users consistently 
exhibit better banking behaviour, with higher rates of savings and 
lower defaults on loans, thus stimulating local economies. Both men 
and women appear to benefit, often the latter more.

> 5. Within underserved communities, women often face special 
> difficulties becoming ICT providers (e.g., lack of capital, 
> education, competing demands for time). Are there particular 
> approaches that can be used to support women entrepreneurs who want 
> to offer ICT access to underserved communities, beyond the 'Grameen 
> cell phone' model?

I have been told, verbally, that the private Reliance Infocomm WiLL
network in India has encouraged about 5,000 small entrepreneurs, of
which perhaps 20% are rural based, to use the phones as PCOs. No reports
have been published yet of this effort. However, where ordinary users
pay as little as Rs 500 (just over 9 euro) upfront for a phone with
connectivity, entrepreneurs under the scheme do not pay anything at all.
They also do not pay Reliance any commission, for billing of under Rs
250 per month. A call costs Rs 0.40 per minute (this was the cost, till
very recently, of a call within the Reliance network, anywhere in India,
but has probably gone up as a result of a regulatory change. The
organisation is now licensed to operate as a cellular provider, though
their choice of technology has not changed). I was told that women are
the principal beneficiaries of this scheme. Reliance figures that the
investment they make (in terms of forgoing upfront revenues) will be
repaid by higher utilisation of the network.

-- 
Vickram



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