Achieving global connectivity.

Author:Lee, Charles R.

Modern telecommunications is a prerequisite for - not a natural consequence of - a developing country's economic success in today's emerging global economy. Study after study drives home the point that an adequate telecommunications system is essential to the integration of a country's political, cultural, and social fabric - and is critical to its economic advancement.

Telecommunications has become the "missing link" for the developing nations, observed Jonathan Parapak, the secretary general for Posts and Telecommunications of the Republic of Indonesia. "When some of us speak about telecommunications development," he said, "we are enchanted by their fantastic possibilities, both from the technological viewpoint and the networking of services. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that globalization also includes Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As long as the developing world is left behind in telecommunications, there cannot be true global connectivity."

In a recent paper, Walther Richter of the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) compared the effect of telecommunications on the economy of a developing country to that of fertilizer on agriculture. He commented: "You can grow produce without fertilizer, just as you can run an economy without telecommunications, but each is considerably less efficient without these basic inputs."

And, Peter F. Drucker, writing in the April 9, 1992 issue of The Wall Street Journal, summed up today's situation this way: The biggest demand pool in the world is for telephone service in Third World countries, including the former Soviet bloc. There is no greater impediment to economic development than poor telephone service, and no greater spur than good telephone service."

Simply stated, the ability to compete in a 24-hour-a-day global economy increasingly depends on a nation's ability to manage the rapid transfer of information. For developing countries to expand socially, culturally, and economically, telecommunications is as important a part of the infrastructure as electric power, modern roads, water, and sewer systems.

It seems logical, then, that all developing countries would be placing major emphasis on achieving a modern, flexible telecommunications infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is not always true. In Latin America, Asia, and Africa, for example, the absence of reliable, efficient telecommunications service remains a major stumbling block to the healthy development of many countries.

Roadblocks to Advancement

Studies by the World Bank, the ITU, and others point to an enormous scarcity of even the most basic telecommunications services throughout the developing world.

Richter points out that the Tokyo area alone has more telephones than all of Africa with its population of 500 million. In some developing countries, there is less than one phone per 100 people - and most of these phones are concentrated in the country's...

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