The Zambian Economist at the Crossroads of Global Business
Wednesday, July 28, 2011
Truly a miracle of modern technology, the mobile phone is fast becoming the most important means of communication between individuals, especially for the people of the developing world. The reason is that mobile communication is cheaper than most other methods of communication, and in many of the poorer countries it is the only way to get an education or obtain some medical care. The average cost of a mobile phone call in Zambia is less than US$0.25.
The number of mobile subscribers jumped from 1.5 million in the first quarter of 2008 to more than 2 million in the first quarter of this year. The number of people who use mobile phones rose from 2.1 million in 2008 to nearly 2.9 million in 2009 and is projected to almost double to 4.1 million in 2010. (This latter number does not include the people who have switched to other methods of communication such as the internet or email.)
While most people, particularly in developed countries, have more than one mobile phone number they are never asked to give up their existing phone number. In the developing world, by contrast, a significant minority of mobile phone users are asked to put down their calls. According to a recent report by the World Bank, “there is no law or policy in many developing countries requiring subscribers to give up their mobile phone numbers.” (As the article says, “It’s not illegal and it is also not a cost to the government.” [Note the irony of a statement that is more true in the developing world than in the advanced world, when the latter is in the process of becoming more advanced.])
What is being done about this? Not surprisingly, the mobile phone companies (or, as they were called in the U.S., the cellular phone companies) argue that they need to keep their subscribers and that the public needs to be told how to balance the privacy of their calls against the value of a telephone handset. If individuals do not make sure they have at least one mobile phone number, the argument goes, that number is wasted.
Of course, as has been seen over the