Thank goodness for the non-American system

It’s always a very eye-opening experience when you first arrive in a new country. From driving on the opposite side of the road to experiencing different mannerisms and ‘language variation’, not to mention coping with the excessive patriotism (proudly displayed in the form of countless American flags and enthusiastic tributes to “The American Worker”), there are more practical actions that need to be taken, such as getting attached to a mobile phone network (sorry, cellphone network).

This has been a particularly eye opening experience. And all I can say is this. In Europe, mobile networks are being squeezed by the consumer and various EU bodies, but here in the States they’re having a field day. If the rest of the world, and developing countries in particular, adopted their practices then there would almost zero growth in mobile use among the poor, and quite probably also zero initiatives using mobile technology for social good. I’ll explain why. There are two reasons…

Firstly, for some crazy reason users here have to pay to receive a text message. The sender pays, and the recipient pays. If poor, rural phone owners in developing countries were forced to maintain credit on their handsets to receive texts, then many wouldn’t be able to do it. They might also object, or opt out, of receiving valuable health or other information messages. The use of handsets to help bridge the digital – or information – divide would be nothing more than a dream.

Secondly, pre-pay (or pay-as-you-go) customers on some networks are charged a daily ‘connection’ or ‘service’ fee of 99 cents just to keep their number connected. They pay 99 cents each day whether they use their phone or not. It’s ironic that this almost equates to the $1 dollar per day used to measure the number of people living in extreme poverty.

In reality it was the adoption of the pre-pay system which truly liberated disconnected rural communities in developing countries. The ability to connect to the network without needing a bank account, credit history or an address was the key which finally unlocked the digital door. A daily service charge of any kind, for many, would have slammed that door right back in their face.

Combine either – or at worst, both – of these in a developing country context and the effect would be disastrous. Thank goodness we have an alternative to the American system.