Confusing quantity and quality of teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Posted on September 2, 2015  /  0 Comments

Two members of CPRsouth, Ibrahim Kholiul Rohman and Hasib Ahsan Nadeem, have collaborated on an evidence-based op-ed published in Indonesia’s leading English daily. I am very pleased about this. This kind of decentralized initiative is what we sought to foster through CPRsouth.

But decentralized initiative also means that the policy recommendations may not be in line with what LIRNEasia would say, based on its research. Here is one such divergence.

There were stark contrasts between current mobile telephony and fixed and public coin adoptions in the early 1980s. Surveys in Kenya and Ethiopia in the early 1980s revealed that subscribers used these devices mainly for business purposes, as was the case in Indonesia. During the heyday of fixed telephony, Chu et al (1985) revealed that 48 percent of usage in Indonesia was for business purposes.

A more recent survey conducted by the University of Indonesia’s School of Economics’ research institute LPEM FEUI and LIRNE Asia in 2011 on the use of mobile devices by bottom of pyramid (BOP) users (those who have a personal income of less than US$1.25 per day, a threshold set by the World Bank) corroborated the contrast. The survey showed that business purposes comprised only 15 percent of mobile usage among BOP users.

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We have stated repeatedly that one must distinguish between the volume and value of calls; that different calls (or Internet searches, etc.) do not have the same value and thus cannot be directly added up or compared. An example is here: “He emphasizes that when comparing the effectiveness of different communication telephonies, one needs to go beyond measuring indicators of “volume” to that of “value”; furthermore, he emphasizes that within telephony itself, “one call is not the same as another call” (e.g. a call saying “I am here” cannot be compared to a call made to communicate an emergency).”

No one would think of analyzing the calls made by a CEO of a company or of a knowledge professional by giving equal value and weight to the calls made. But somehow, that seems to be okay when knowledge workers analyze the calls made by the poor. Paternalistically, we judge that 15 percent of the calls being made for business purposes is too few. Unthinkingly we compare the volume of calls made conveniently from a mobile phone that is always accessible and where prices are low, with those of calls from fixed phones under completely different circumstances.

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