Strategic use of telecom services on a shoestring

Posted on February 10, 2006  /  6 Comments

As a part of LIRNEasia’s Telecom Use on a Shoestring project, the use of ‘strategic’ behaviour to curb communication costs amongst the financially constrained in Sri Lanka and India was explored. The findings relating to such ‘strategic’ behavior are available for comment in the following paper:

Telecom use on a shoestring: Strategic use of telecom services by the financially constrained in South Asia (V2.0 for comment) (February 2006)

Telecom use on a shoestring: Strategic use of telecom services by the financially constrained in South Asia (V2.1 for comment, March 2006)

The Authors invite comments and discussion.


When one talks of a ‘shoestring’ budget, it is understood that reference is being made to constrained finances, where individuals make attempts to cut costs through various methods without harming utility. This paper looks at the use of ‘strategies’ by such ‘shoestring’ users to reduce their communication costs. While the use of ‘long-term’ strategies, relating to the investment in a phone, is evident, that of ‘short-term’ strategies, relating to everyday use are looked at is found to be low. It is concluded that this is a result of a series of constraints on users, rather than a lack of a concern for controlling spending on telecoms.


  1. I thought the paper was good. I have the following brief comments/questions:

    1. Since it is stated that a limitation of study is the fact that comparison to finacially ‘unconstrained,’ the fact that the data was not obtained by pure random sample and quota sampling was not adopted by quota sampling, what does the data represent?

    2. How will ensure consistency/replicablity of the study over time?

    3. I had difficulty with the use of ‘strategy’ which I understand to mean a plan devised to achieve a specific goal. On the one hand you define strategy in terms of the telecommunication options availble and state in that the absence of other options there is no strategy. But this precludes the possibilty of other forms of communication viz., internet, email etc. So I wondered how you would account for other innovative strategies for communication.

  2. Thanks for your comments. here are some responses:

    This study represents people who earn less than USD100 per month, or the ‘financially constrained’ people of each locality studied. While purposive sampling was undertaken to cover a priori heterogeneous localities, random sampling was adopted within these localities to select households, and KISH grid techniques were used to select respondents (from those that were above 18 years old, had used a phone in the preceding 3 months, had monthly incomes below approx. USD100 and belonged to socio-economic classification groups B, C, D or E) within a household. The use of the KISH grid ensures against age and gender biases (see footnote # 6 for more detail on KISH techniques). In sum, the localities were purposively selected, but within these localities eligible respondents were randomly selected.

    The aim of the study was not to project findings to the populations of Sri Lanka or India, so using the above methodology, it is possible to perform the analysis that has been done.

    Moreover, the 2005 Teleuse on a Shoestring study served as a pilot, in order to get a preliminary understanding of the use of telecom services by the financially constrained, as well as to iron out the ‘bugs’ in the methodology, so that the study can be replicated, which leads on to your second point.

    Weaknesses and areas for improvement have been identified, and will be addressed in the 2006-2007 Teleuse on a Shoestring research, which will be carried out in at least four (if not six) countries in developing Asia. Consistency of the study will be ensured wherever possible, however, some areas will be dropped (for example, questions that did not elicit the kind of information that was being sought; this is common in many studies that are repeated over time), while new ones (which are more relevant to a particular country for example) will be added on. Added to this, new sampling methods will be introduced which will allow for projection to the population, and a control group (consisting of the financially ‘unconstrained’ will be studied in order to make more robust comparisons.

    On your final point: The idea behind the research was to study the ‘strategies of the poor’ in the use of telecom services. The term ‘strategy’ was somewhat given, as the idea to study the strategies of the poor originated in IDRC, and embodied what are termed in the paper as ‘short-term’ strategies. The idea of ‘long-term’ strategies arose later on, as the need to differentiate between decisions such as whether to invest in a phone vs. use someone else’s and decisions such as what time of day to place one’s call, was felt.

    It must be noted that other forms of communication (namely Internet use and the use of telegrams) were looked at, and what was found was that Internet use was limited to 2% of all respondents (34% who use it for email), and only 12% of respondents use telegrams (20% of whom use it because they have no other choice). Furthermore, as seen on p. 17, less than a third of those studied actually have the option of using what we define as strategies, with access to more than one of the modes in question.

  3. There seems to be a bit of a confusion regarding the sampling method used in the study. Whilst it is mentioned here that purposive sampling was used in selecting the localities for study, elsewhere I noticed that there is a mention of using Quota sampling. As there are fundamental differences in purposive sampling and quota sampling techniques, I would appreciate a clarification on this issue.

  4. mahinda, the researchers had used a purposive sample of localities based on judgement (some in india and some in sri lanka) and thereafter used probability sampling within those identified localities. no quota sampling had been used.

    given the exploratory and pilot nature of the study this was quite adequate. the objective was to get an understanding on what was going on. in the six country study, appropriate probability samples will be used so that findings can be projected to the populations.

    hope this clarifies your concerns

  5. Thanks, the matter is now cleared.

    The confusion occurred due to the following contention that appeared in page 12(?) of version V2.0.

    “……The findings from this study are not representative of India and Sri Lanka as wholes. A true representation could only be obtained through pure random sampling according to the natural distribution of the population in the countries, rather than quota sampling which was undertaken to cover a priori heterogeneous locations. Quotas were allocated within the locations as given in Table 1…….”

    However, I see that this has been corrected in version V2.1 – as newly posted above.

    Thanks once again for clearing my confusion.