This book, and the research program which it draws from, rests on the assumption that connectivity—the opportunity (but not the compulsion) to engage in electronicallymediated communication (synchronous as well as asynchronous), information retrieval is various forms, and publication—is good. This assumption is not, however, a religious belief. It rests on evidence, if not proof.
Why is Connectivity Good?
After much debate, it is now recognized that economic growth in a necessary condition for the alleviation of human misery (or for the achievement of human development). The relationship between the ability to communicate over distance using technological means and economic growth has been much discussed (Cronin et al., 1993; Cronin et al., 1991; Cronin et al., 1993; Hardy, 1980; Mansell and Wehn, 1998; Menou, 1993; Samarajiva, 1995; World Bank, 1999). Correlation is beyond dispute, but the case for causation is unlikely to be fully established. Development requires many inputs; communication and knowledge being only some of them (see Figure 1).
Establishing causation was considerably more important prior to the 1990s when public funds, domestic as well as donor, were still the main source of investment for expanding access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), defined as including, but not limited to, telecom. Access to telecom is the foundation for ICT use. In many developing countries and among the poor, telecom (and perhaps radio and TV) constitute the total experience with ICTs.
The increased private investment in telecom in the 1990s dipped as part of the overall downturn following the bursting of the IT bubble, overbidding on 3G (Third generation) mobile and overbuilding of optic fiber capacity at the turn of the century. But at least for emerging Asia, it always remained above the levels of the early 1990s. Investment is particularly robust in South and Southeast Asia, the regions covered by this book (see Figure 2), partly because a new group of investors based in the South, such as Ayala, Etisalat, Orascom, Reliance, Singapore Telecom and Telekom Malaysia (TM), have entered the semi-liberalized markets of this region in a significant way.
When public funds were being expended on telecom, it was necessary to ensure that scarce financial resources were being spent on services which give the greatest public benefit. A rupee more for telecom was a rupee less for road building. Now, the burden of proof is much less because private capital is the main (and in many cases, exclusive) source of funding for expanding telecom networks.