It’s always a challenge to decipher the special language of evaluation reports, but this para in the recent evaluation report on the ICT activities of the World Bank does seem like an indictment of universal service programs.
4.28 Equity and integration of marginalized groups have been more
effectively supported by Bank support for ICT policy and sector
reform than by operations specifically designed to achieve these goals.
ICT operations that supported reforms to introduce competition into the
sector, when successful in supporting those reforms, have had significant
impact, especially in access to cellular telephony services. This increase in
overall access has had a spill-over effect of providing access to the
underserved. Lower tariffs (especially in cellular telephony), falling
handset prices, and the expansion of prepaid cellular services are all
channels that facilitate access by the poor. One indicator of the poor
becoming part of the customer base of cellular telephony providers is the
monthly average revenue per user (ARPU), which declined from about
$20 in 2002 to about $5 in 2010 in developing countries.