Mobile phone access as the commons?

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Mexican villagers build their own mobile network

We were warned at the start of this course that once we began to understand what the commons is, we would start seeing it everywhere. That is certainly true for me.

Take this short news story I caught on the BBC today for example. Talea de Castro is a coffee producing village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Talea de Castro has never had mobile service, despite requesting it. Mexico’s telecoms suppliers have always viewed the village’s population of 2,500 people as too small a market to warrant the investment in infrastructure required. Where would the major mobile companies make the profits needed to justify the initial spending?

The market principles of supply and demand can so often fall down when confronted with a situation like this. If the community of Talea de Castro cannot generate enough demand to meet the supplier’s price, then the suppliers simply do not supply.

So what should a community do when the market shuts them out because they are not “profitable” enough? In Talea de Castro, community groups teamed up with civil organisations and universities, and with the support of NGO Rhizomatica built their own mobile network. Using municipal buildings and land as sites for the transmitters, and carrying out the construction work themselves, the community cut down the costs that the big companies were not prepared to spend.

Credit: Rhizomatica.org

Credit: Rhizomatica.org

The result? A local network which residents can use at a fraction of the cost of the existing landlines. For $1.20 per month residents can call others in the community for free and further afield, cheaper than the existing phone booths charge. Within the first 3 months 600 people had already signed up, using the service to stay in touch with family, support their businesses and to call for help in emergencies.
This good-news story has left me thinking where else commoning can help those that the market shuts out. What other examples are out there?
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2 Responses to “Mobile phone access as the commons?”

  1. mktkwad Says:

    True now people all over the world can communicate. I can even talk on skype with my parents and friends in Africa.

  2. peterezekiel Says:

    I agree, Skype and other similar tools are so useful – particularly where traditional infrastructure like landlines is non-existent. And that they are free to use (so long as you don’t mind the adverts!) is excellent.
    However, I think we can already see such tools being “enclosed”.

    Even to the extent where using VoIP software like Skype in some countries is now illegal and can land you in prison (see this example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18461292_)

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