In most of rural Africa, there is only one telephone for every thousand people. It is true that the number of phones in Africa has risen enormously in the past decade, especially since liberalisation, but most of the new telephones are mobiles, and they are mostly in cities. For rural people, buying and using a mobile phone is very expensive – a single call can cost as much as half the daily wage of an agricultural worker.
Will mobile services become cheap enough to meet rural needs? Are satellite and other new technologies making traditional fixed-line infrastructures obsolete? Will the level of rural phone use ever be enough to provide a profitable market for private providers, or will substantial subsidy be needed to ensure rural services? These and other questions should be much more widely debated.
This report, based on case studies from Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia, argues that policymakers should pay more attention to the challenge of providing telephones to rural people in Africa. If they do not, the development benefits of the information revolution will by-pass many of the world's poorest people.