Overselling the Web? Development and the Internet
Charles Kenny PSUlib HF5548.32 .K466 2006
I am inspired by many of Kenny's more recent works (Upside of Down, for example). This book is earlier, based on research between 1995 and 2005, and ignores counterexamples to his thesis, which is that the internet worsens opportunities for lesser developed countries. He has a good point about diversion of development dollars to internet infrastructure (fiber, routing, etc.). That should be driven by operating revenues, let the few (or many) internet users vote with their limited money.
The citations have errors. Example page 125, cite 25 is "Wheeler et al. 2001, which is not in the author-ordered citation list on page 150. Wheeler is co-author of some of the World Bank reports cited with the organization as the author.
Kenny focuses a lot on version churn by Microsoft, but there are few direct mentions of F/OSS alternatives.
- p77 Indian $300 "simputer", 4000 sold in 2004 and 2005
Kenny focuses on patent barriers, and the costs to the developing world, and the barriers created by WPO and TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). While these are barriers for selling products to the developed world, they do not need to be barriers to trade flows between developing economies.
Kenny writes of abysmally low bandwidth to Africa. 249 Mbps (p67) ... in 1999! ... compared to the developed world, (45,459 Mbps for Europe). Africa may always have a tiny fraction of the bandwidth that the first world uses for Netflix, social networking, and online gaming, but that tiny fraction of an incredibly fast growing resource can support education, research, eTourism, and plenty of new applications developed by and for LDC entrepreneurs.
I had hoped to read about the (perhaps tiny) fraction of the internet that is done right, that LDC individuals develop and use to help their countries. Success in the west in non-rivalrous goods is not failure for the rest. Artificial rivalrous goods (like patents) are indeed a major problem for the developing world ... and also 99% of the non-patent-enforcing citizens of the developed world. I am not rich because Bill Gates is (unless he spends all his wealth to help others, which makes my world better).
- p61 cell phones, developed 900/1000, LDC 24/1000 in 2000 . What were the developed world numbers in 1975? What were the LDC numbers in 2016? The LDC may be way behind, but matching a 1990 US standard of living would be fantastic for them. Kenny paints a better picture in his more recent books.
- p65 few domestic servers (only 224 in low income countries out of 110,498 worldwide in 2005). So what? Servers should be where the bandwidth and reliable power is, not where their owners are located. My internet servers are owned by a New Zealand company and sited in Dallas, with rollover to Brisbane and London.
- no mention of eBay, or China's Alibaba. Yes, Amazon is a big e-Retailer, but individuals can sell on the internet as well.
- p66 EU in 2001, internet used by 40% of business service firms, 24% for manufacturing firms.
- p70 M. Dertouzos MIT, Internet development in Nepal, fell short of goal. 27% of Nepalis literate, much smaller fraction have some english and useful skills. "The potential of the modern information age seemed overshadowed at every turn by the ancient forces that separate the rich from the poor" 1999 Jan MIT Tech Review "The Rich People's Computer?"
so, can't grow a modern world without education and a cultural foundation first. How can the internet be used for that?
- p79 "since the 1950s LDC income growth fell further behind" ... which is contradicted by his later books. What matters is whether they are making progress, not their relative position. Status doesn't fill stomachs, save babies, and educate children.
p105 Chapter 6, Sustainable Policies for E-Development
- useful policy prescriptions
- p115 level of internet use more closely associated with the spread of the basic telecommunications network than it is with income levels. cite 25, Wheeler et al 2001
- p115-116 telecommunication competition reform works. Example Somalia, with no government, nine providers, and Africa's lowest international call costs.
- p120 SARI Sustainable Access in Rural India, 50 villages in Madurai District Tamil Nadu, IIT Madras
- p116 Chile auctions rural subsidies, lowest bidders provide access at $10 per newly served person