June 2008

LIRNEasia, Sri Lanka

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LIRNEasia conducted a comprehensive survey to find out the efficacy of telephones in expediting socio-economic development and buttressing accessibility

Technology for development

Roller and Wavermani argued in a paper (2001) that a significant amount of the output increase in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries from 1970-1990 could be attributed to the increase of fixed-line telecommunications; Waverman, Meschi and Fussii suggested in a paper (2005) that the growth of mobile phone networks is playing a similar role in increasing output in developing countries. These papers and others provide strong evidence for the connection between phone access and development. The claims about the impact of technology on development can seem astounding in their scale and range, but this is certainly the case for telecommunications. However, while the theory on large-scale, macroeconomic benefits of telecom access is supported by evidence studies like those by Roller, Waverman, Meschi and Fuss, the issue is less well researched at the household level, especially for developing countries. It is in these countries where the theorised economic benefits of telecom access would have the greatest impact, providing a possible means to escape poverty. Yet, the results of a comprehensive 2006 survey by LIRNEasia indicate that these economic benefits are not perceived to be as high by those very users at the bottom of the economic pyramid  who have the most to gain. This article aims to explore why the advantages of phone ownership are not perceived as such, and what may be done to remedy the situation.

A summary of findings

In the survey, which gathered data (on telephone usage

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