As Mark Twain once said, “reports of my death were great exaggerated”. This could be very aptly applied to the optimistic perception that the Internet and cheap telecommunications meant that it didn’t matter where you were, the so-called “death of geography”. The future was in telework and invisible global supply chains. While there is truth to the flat world notion popularised by Thomas Friedman, it is equally true that “local” has become more important than ever. Strangely the more connected we become, the more local seems to matter.

In Wired magazine, Tim Harford of Undercover Economist fame writes an article entitled How Email Brings You Closer to the Guy in the Next Cubicle. He highlights a number of studies which point to the Internet, email in particular, being most critically used for local communication whether within a company or within a community/town/city. He gives online dating as a classic example of an Internet phenomenon whose success is based on proximity (Russian brides excepted :). I interpret this article informal reinforcement for the village telco concept.

Put this in the context of an emerging body of evidence on the key role that cities play in innovation and economic growth and I think what you get is a critical need for cities to take basic information infrastructure on as a key strategic issue.

A similar point is made in the Economist article The Fading Lustre of Clusters in which one consultant summarizes 20 years of research into innovation by saying “Companies, not regions, are competitive. So the question for government is: how to attract many competitive firms?” Easy access to inexpensive, high-speed telecoms is one essential ingredient.

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data