NDN Blog

In the SAIS Review: Challenges & Opportunities of a Networked World

The current (summer-fall) issue of the SAIS Review focuses on the impact of technological innovation on international affairs, with a number of great authors and thinkers looking at the issue from a variety of angles. From the issue's forward:

This issue was first conceived as an examination of the impact of technological innovation on international affairs. In the wake of the Iranian "Twitter Revolution" and the creation of a U.S. Cyber Command, it became clear that innovations in network technology were significant enough to be our sole focus. The substance of international relations-the manifold daily interactions, some cooperative, some conflictive among societies and states-are increasingly played out in a connected cyberspace. This development increasingly holds the potential to alter the dynamic of power within and among states.

It also presents policymakers with a host of new and complex challenges. On one level, individual societies are still grappling with the question of how to accommodate networks in their national lives. At the same time, how any individual society approaches the Internet has immediate foreign policy implications given the interconnectedness of today's world. In short, the rapid advance of technological innovation in the cyber realm has created a demand for equal innovation in the policy realm. This issue explores the policy implications of this remarkable technological milieu, shedding light on both the threats and opportunities of international relations in cyberspace.

Now, there is a certain irony in such content being placed behind a paywall, but such is the state of academic publishing. Perhaps you can get the student in your life to lend you their university login information.  

It's worth it, with articles from Alec Ross on State's approach to internet freedom, Min Jiang on China's "internet sovereignty," Bruce Etling, Rob Faris, and John Palfrey on the "promise and fragility of online organizing," Patrick Meier and Rob Munro on the "potential of the Internet to facilitate political resistance and disaster response," Maja Andjelkovic on the potential for innovation-- particularly on mobile devices-- to drive growth in the developing world, and my friend Neil Shenai writing with Teryn Norris on the "long-term innovation potential of the Chinese and U.S. economies." Among others.

Lots of interesting stuff.  Looking forward to diving into it all myself, and perhaps commenting here on Global Mobile. 

Language, Literacy, and Rising Mobile Adoption

The BBC had a good article this week about mobile-based learning tools. The piece doubled as a bit of self-promotion, as it discussed the BBC World Service Trust's own project, Janala, which uses brief audio lessons to teach English to poor Bangladeshis. The other story is about Nokia's Ovi Life tools, which has 6.3 million users in China, India and Indonesia, and just introduced in Nigeria. Nokia's service uses SMS messages to teach English, instead of voice.

Much of the article focuses on the challenge of delivering content that is locally relevant and appropriate. Nokia's service in Nigeria will use Hausa and pidgin English as available languages of instruction, just as they've used 11 regional Indian languages to make their service useful to Indians who don't speak Hindi. Janala teaches English with a Bangladeshi accent, rather than the Queen's, and replaced references to "tennis and hamburgers" with references to "cricket and rice."  All good stuff.

But the question I want to zero-in on here has to do with the different models of instruction: voice vs. SMS.  I don't want to take anything away from Nokia's service-- if they're reaching over six million people, with over one million repeat users, they're creating a valuable service. But around the world today there are more and more people who own mobile phones, and yet cannot read: people for whom SMS is useless.

In most countries, the literacy rate still exceeds the mobile penetration rate, but this won't be true for long. Take a look at the graph below, which charts the growth rates in mobile penetration in a sampling of developing countries over the past 15 years. South Africa is in there as a fully-saturated market, to give you a sense of what the mature S-curve looks like:

Extrapolate those trends forward to today, and it's a safe bet that 40-50% of Indians and Bangladeshis have a mobile phone, while the rate in Nigeria is creeping toward 60%. Literacy rates are still higher-- India's is around 66%, Nigeria's is about 72%, Bangladesh's is about 53%-- but those numbers grow more slowly, at only about 1 or 2 percentage points each year over the past fifteen years. Probably sometime in the next two to three years, more Bangladeshis will own mobile phones than are able to read. The same will likely be true in India and Nigeria within four-five years, if not sooner. 

This should perhaps change the way we think about tools-- not just learning tools, all tools-- on mobile. If, very soon, there's going to be a massive market of phone-owners without the ability to read, then how much can we make available by voice, as opposed to SMS? Earlier this year, I wrote about CGnet Swara, a citizen journalism service in Chhattisgarh, India, that's entirely-voice based. What about banking services? Healthcare services? Even better, how might voice and SMS hybrid services be used to improve literacy? 

(Mike Trucano wrote about one project working on that problem here, and MobileActive.org covered another project here.)

Internet Freedom: More than Circumvention

In today's Journal, Rebecca MacKinnon has an op-ed on the struggle in Washington to get the money to be the guy who uses the internet to knock down authoritarian governments around the world. Easier said than done, she says, and calls attention to the fact that circumvention tools-- while great for getting around censorship-- are not the silver bullet they've been made out to be.

Many governments have gone beyond censorship and begun using new tactics to control the online public sphere: "cyber-attacks, surveillance, and good old-fashioned intimidation" are all part of ever-more sophisticated efforts at crushing online dissent, and the dissidents, in many places, are losing the battle badly. So, beyond circumvention, MacKinnon writes:

A range of fast-evolving technical problems requires an array of solutions. Activists around the world need technical assistance and training in order to fight cyber-attacks more effectively. We need more coordination between human rights activists, technology companies and policy makers just to understand the problems, and how they can be expected to evolve in the next few years. What's more, existing research indicates that many of the problems aren't technical, but rather political, legal, regulatory and even social.

I'd encourage a read of the whole piece, here.  Happy Friday.

Barriers to Information Freedom: Barriers to Trade

Earlier this week, Google's public policy shop released a white paper arguing for obstructions to the global free flow of information to be seen as barriers to free trade. The paper came out on the deadline for comments on the Commerce Department's notice of inquiry on this subject (though apparently the deadline was extended for a few extra weeks-- there's still time!), and took on all the big questions sought by Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force:  How are governments restricting the internet? What is the impact of these restrictions?  What can we do about it? The white paper is a good read, but 25 pages, so, forthwith, a summary and some thoughts:

The white paper outlines the tremendous economic impact and potential of the internet (1.7 billion users! [i.e.: customers] Global markets for local companies!), and then spends considerable time describing the ways that "more than 40" governments disrupt the free flow of information on the internet, identifying four "common characteristics" of the restrictions.  First, restrictive governments will often impose rules or regulations on online service providers without making those rules clear and publicly available.  Second, governments will block entire platforms or services based on individual pieces of content or the actions of a small number of users. Third, foreign companies are frequently disadvantaged in favor of local companies. And fourth, restrictive governments apply their laws arbitrarily and haphazardly, targeting some violators while ignoring others.

These restrictions have real impacts on trade and economic growth, as the next section of the paper argues. With restrictions, companies have a harder time reaching their customers, and even when they do, the degradation of their service lowers its value. When restrictions target "intermediary" companies-- search engines, blogging platforms, cloud-based services-- the effects are magnified, as they impact not just the blocked service, but other businesses-- both local and foreign-- that rely on the service for their own business. The ultimate effects of restrictions are lowered revenues for internet companies and others who depend on the blocked services, a high degree of uncertainty that makes it impossible for firms to plan their work, and unfair advantages given-- often intentionally-- to local, unrestricted businesses.

The white paper suggests three main steps for policymakers to combat barriers to free information/trade on the internet.  First, they must call attention to the restrictions imposed by foreign governments and the effects they have on the global economy. Second, policymakers must take action in instances where restrictions on the free flow of information online are in violation of existing international trade rules. The paper puts particular emphasis on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which extends the WTO's jurisdiction over goods to services, including information and communications services.  

Third, they must protect free flows of information in future international trade rules by establishing global openness as the default position, and mandating stronger transparency rules. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement currently in negotiation already includes language that acknowledges the importance of information freedom in facilitating trade and restricts barriers to any information flow. The paper mentions other trade forums that could be ripe for introducing these ideas, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and the Doha Round of negotiations under the WTO, should it move forward.

This white paper is a valuable contribution to a side of the "internet freedom" conversation that has gotten less attention this year.  In her January speech on Internet Freedom, Secretary Clinton made clear that the free flow of information was an economic issue, as well as a strategic issue and a human rights issue. Most discussion, however, has centered on a universal right of access to information, described by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  While compelling and stirringly idealistic (I've defended this right on this blog many times before), arguments based on issues of human rights often don't gain the purchase in the policy world that economic arguments do.  If we're going to knock down barriers to information freedom-- for the sake of human rights, economic interests, Western values, or whatever else-- taking the economic approach is likely to be the most effective.

Related to white paper, the Center for Democracy and Technology just published a really interesting blog post about fees charged to Chinese universities by their government for accessing "international data." Any time a student at a major university in China accesses a news or information portal hosted in another country, they pay a tax. As Google's paper mentions, restrictions on information freedom have the effect-- intentionally, in China's case-- of creating a fragmented internet: individual "intranets" rather than a single, global network. The sort of "data protectionism" that CDT describes inevitably deepens national divides, making the world less global and interconnected, and preserves the disparities in information access that idealists once hoped the internet could tear down. It's troubling to watch these barriers erected and strengthened.

Back in August, we held an event here at NDN on the global free flow of information, and were fortunate to host Anita Ramasastry, co-chair of the "Free Flow of Information on the Internet" working group in the Commerce Department's Internet Policy Task Force; she spent much of her talk discussing the trade approach to information freedom.  You can read a summary and watch a video of the event here.

Google's Foreign Policy

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen co-author a very curious piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, called The Digital Disruption.  What's curious isn't the lightly tempered enthusiasm about the potential of technology to devolve power away from states to individual citizens-- classic Schmidt, classic Cohen-- nor is it curious to find an essay from a pair of Googlers in the foremost journal of international affairs, after all, the company has had a significant and growing impact on our world. Rather, what's so curious is the direction of their conclusions.

They spend most of the essay offering their overview of how connection technologies are changing the world: empowering citizens and civil society to play a larger role in global affairs, while also giving nasty governments new tools to censor, surveil, and manipulate their populations. I agree with the majority of their analysis, though they stay at such a macro, sweeping-landscape level that the essay doesn't end up going beyond overbroad generalizations backed up with reference to the usual examples-- Iran in '09, M-Pesa, A Million Voices Against FARC, you know the stories.

What I might have expected from this pair of authors was a reflection on the role of Google and other internet companies in this new world-- an explanation of their own foreign policy. To be sure, since global corporations existed, they have played a significant role in international affairs: think United Fruit, Blackwater, Exxon-Mobil. But for corporations in the information business-- an inherently political business, as Schmidt and Cohen point out-- their respective "foreign policies" can dramatically affect the political course of states both authoritarian and democratic, and the trajectory of political freedom around the world.

Schmidt and Coehn are, of course, acutely aware of all this, and that comes through in their piece. But rather than offering their take on the fascinating, important, and largely unexplored question of how information companies should approach their role in global politics, the conclusions of the essay are effectively advice to the U.S. government on how to craft foreign policy in the information age.  The big arguments and many of the supporting examples of their piece are no different from the arguments and examples that that made up Secretary Hillary Clinton's January speech on Internet Freedom-- a speech Cohen was closely involved in crafting while working on the State Department's policy planning staff.

Cohen was advocating for all these same arguments up through his departure from the State Department in September.  And now that he's landed at Google Ideas, we get an essay from him and the CEO of Google advocating for what is already, in effect, enshrined in the State Department's policy.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  It's just odd, no? And it probably doesn't help perceptions in Washington that Google is too close to our executive branch.

On a somewhat more substantive level, the essay seems to jump back and forth between extolling the power of new technologies and warning against their dangers. One representative passage:

Connection technologies will add to the strains of less developed societies -- forcing them to become more open and accountable while also giving governments new tools to constrain opposition and become more closed and repressive. There will be a constant struggle between those striving to promote what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called "the freedom to connect" and those who view that freedom as inimical to their political survival.

There's something to this. I argued in a blog post a few months back that the arrival of connection technologies in less developed countries wouldn't necessarily presage openness and democracy, but it would force governments to make a choice. Activists and civil society will have new, more powerful tools at their disposal to fight for liberal change, and governments will have to either accept that change, or go in the opposite direction and crack down. 

Schmidt and Cohen predict that "Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority."  That may be true once or twice, but governments aren't going to keep getting fooled.  It's hard to imagine the Iraninan government being surprised by the role of cell phones and social media in the next uprising.  Same goes for China, or Vietnam, or Egypt, or any other government that has more or less figured it out.

But the stakes are high in the less-connected, somewhat-democratic states that have yet to reckon with the change that technology is bringing. China has a model of information-control that they're marketing aggressively in the developing world, and for governments presented with pressure from within, the decision to close their societies and close information access is an easy and attractive one. For the sake of human rights, but also for the sake of American interests in a more democratic world, it's important that the U.S. and other democratic states present their alternative of openness and information freedom.

After reading their piece, I think Schmidt, Cohen and I are on the same page on that.  As is, I'm glad to say, the U.S. State Department. Someday soon, I hope to tackle questions around the foreign policy of information corporations. We caught a glimpse of Google's evolving idea of their role in the world earlier this year, when the company explained their withdrawal from China, but there are still a lot of open questions...

Reading: The Murderers of Mexico

The single best account I've read (in English, anyway) of Mexico's drug war is an article in the current New York Review of Books by Alma Guillermoprieto. Looking at four books on the personalities, politics, and events surrounding the violence that has claimed nearly 28,000 lives in the past four years, her review rings true on all the gruesome and terrible points it touches.  From her introduction: 

We, the people in charge of telling the story, know far too little ourselves about a clandestine upstart society we long viewed as marginal, and what little we know cannot be explained in print media’s standard eight hundred words or less (or broadcast’s two minutes or under). And the story, like the murders, is endlessly repetitive and confusing: there are the double-barreled family names, the shifting alliances, the double-crossing army generals, the capo betrayed by a close associate who is in turn killed by another betrayer in a small town with an impossible name, followed by another capo with a double-barreled last name who is betrayed by a high-ranking army officer who is killed in turn. The absence of understanding of these surface narratives is what keeps the story static, and readers feeling impotent. Enough time has passed, though, since the beginning of the drug war nightmare1 that there is now a little perspective on the problem. Academics on both sides of the border have been busy writing, and so have the journalists with the most experience. Thanks to their efforts, we can now begin to place some of the better-known traffickers in their proper landscape.

From Guillermoprieto's discussion of Howard Campbell's book "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez," which I now want to read:

Campbell’s central contention, stated in the title of his book, is that the whole idea of a Mexican drug smuggling enterprise, or problem, is untenable: a land so thoroughly bilingual, bicultural, miscegenated, and porous—despite the arbitrary demarcation of a border and the increasingly weird and futile efforts to seal it—can really only be studied and understood as a united territory and a single problem. This is an idea so breathtakingly sensible as to amount to genius,2 and one wonders how many deaths could be avoided if policymakers on both sides of the Rio Grande shared this vision and coordinated not only their law enforcement efforts but their education, development, and immigration policies accordingly.

And from her conclusion:

An easy conclusion would be that Mexico, or the drug war zone, is in the hands of a failed state. But a failed state does not constantly build new roads and schools, or collect taxes, or generate legitimate industrial and commercial activity sufficient to qualify it as one of the twelve largest economies in the world. In a failed state drivers do not stop at red lights and garbage is not collected punctually. The question is, rather, whether in the face of unstoppable activity by highly organized criminals, the Mexican government can adequately enforce the rule of law and guarantee the safety of its citizens everywhere in the country. This, at the moment, the administration of Felipe Calderón does not seem able to do, either in large parts of the countryside or in major cities like Monterrey. There is little doubt that Calderón’s strategy of waging all-out war to solve a criminal problem has not worked. Whether any strategy at all can work, as long as global demand persists for a product that is illegal throughout the world, is a question that has been repeated ad nauseam. But it remains the indispensable question to consider.

But I really think you should just read the whole thing.

Commerce's NOI on the Global Free Flow of Information

A couple weeks back, the Commerce Department released their Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on the Global Free Flow of Information on the Internet. Basically, Commerce is looking for responses from stakeholders to help the Department advise the President on how information freedom is restricted on the internet, what impact those restrictions have on the U.S. economy, and how to craft policy in an intelligent way to allow the internet to continue to be a driver of economic growth in the U.S. Just by itself, the Notice is a good primer on these subjects, and I'd encourage you to give it a read.

This is part of a broader effort of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force, which has put out similar NOIs on issues surrounding privacy, copyright, and cybersecurity. In this latest NOI, all of these issues come together in the section on "intermediary liability." How we answer questions about how the internet industry will work with (or be forced to work with) governments on issues of copyright, privacy and security will have profound impacts on online freedom of information and expression.  From the NOI:

Governments must balance the interests of users who post information on the Internet, and other parties who access the user-generated material. In seeking to prevent the distribution of objectionable or illegal material, many governments have looked to Internet intermediaries to serve a role in implementing governmental restrictions on information. However, the burden of screening, analyzing and carefully filtering each piece of user-generated information is a task beyond the resources available to most Internet intermediaries. Moreover, if governments burden intermediaries with excessive or ill-defined responsibility for content not their own, then they will have no choice but to exercise harmful restrictions on the free flow of information, goods and services online. Governments therefore need to consider the effectiveness of requiring intermediaries to enforce or implement information restrictions against the costs that may deter intermediaries from operating in particular jurisdictions or from creating new Internet business models.

More broadly, it's good to see the Commerce Department taking up these issues. While I've always been an advocate for human rights, I have no trouble seeing that "restrictions on internet freedom violate the universal human right of access to information" might be less persuasive to some people than "restrictions on the free flow of information is bad for business." Both approaches are valuable, and I hope Commerce and State will continue to harmonize their efforts on these issue.

In July, we hosted Anita Ramasastry of the IPTF for a discussion on online information freedom. A recap and video of the event is here, if you'd like to check it out.

Internet Necesario and the Mexican Netroots

On Tuesday, the Mexican Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging President Felipe Calderon to withdraw from negotiations over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The grounds of their opposition? Concern about the treaty's restrictions on privacy on the internet and free access to information.

If that sounds like an uncommon concern of the Mexican Senate, you would be right. So how did we get here? Come back with me to October 2009...

A year ago, the Mexican Senate proposed a new excise tax of 4% on all telecommunications. After a minor outcry, they revised the rate down to 3%, but it was hardly the cost that rankled Mexico's netroots-- the tax would add just a few pesos to their monthly bill. Rather, the devil lay in the scheme of the tax, which put telecommunications-- including internet access-- in a category typically reserved for tobacco, liquor, and luxury items.

It's hard to imagine an opportunity more ripe for web-based protest, and the Twitter users of Mexico coalesced around the hashtag #internetnecesario ("the internet is a necessity").  In a week in late October, thousands of irate Mexicans pushed the phrase into Twitter's trending topics-- one of the first times a Spanish phrase had made the cut-- and brought the proposed tax to the attention of the media and the Senate itself.

By week's end-- the last day of the legislative session-- "Internet Necessario" had surpassed negotiations over the federal budget as the country's top political story, and Mexican Senators were getting crash courses in the internet age. With many of the capital's Twitterati sitting in the room for negotiations over the tax, the proceedings were broadcast live across the internet, and the Senators' words were subject to instantaneous scrutiny, ridicule, or praise: an unusual circumstance for policymakers who typically operated at a distance from their constituents.

In the end, the tax was voted down unanimously, and the idea of the internet as a "luxury" was cast out of the discourse with derision. The lesson for the Senators was clear: don't mess with the internet, because people are paying attention, and can make their voices heard in ways previously unimaginable.

Senator Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca, Chair of the Senate's Science and Technology Commission, was a leader in the fight against the telecommunications tax. He was also a leader in social media-- a year ago, he was the only member of the Senate on Twitter; now over 40 Senators are tweeting madly. By all accounts, Senators are engaging with citizens over Twitter to an extent that has never been seen before in Mexican democracy.

The end of this story (for now) is of course that ACTA suffered a harsh blow from the Mexican Senate this week. A year since this country's netroots first made their voices heard, they have enjoyed ever more direct contact with their government, and were able to successfully mobilize for a cause once again. The Calderon government is likely to continue negotiations over the treaty, despite the unanimous resolution against it.  Still, a treaty like this would require ratification from the Senate, so its chances of passing into law here seem far dimmer since the Mexican netroots made their voices heard.

A Tale of Two Twitters

Ok, two stories from Mexico City.

In July, four Mexican journalists were kidnapped in Durango.  The kidnappers, connected to a drug cartel, sought to force the TV news media to air segments sending the message that Los Zetas, a rival drug gang, was doing business with corrupt officials.  The journalists' respective employers-- most notably Televisa, the biggest media company in Latin America-- negotiated for their freedom, but walked away from the table.

losqueremosvivosFor many Mexican journalists, the situation was too familiar-- caught between vicious thugs who have killed 64 journalists in the past decade, a complicit government that fails to protect the freedoms of press and information, and media companies that fail to protect their reporters. And so a group of them took to Twitter, uniting around the hashtag #losqueremosvivos (we want them alive).

Within a week, the journalists' simple demand had spread like wildfire on Twitter, migrated to Facebook, and morphed into a full-fledged movement. The reporters planned a march in Mexico City for August 7, invited journalists from around Mexico to join in the capital or host their own marches, and introduced colleagues around the world to their grievances.  Over 2,000 journalists showed up to march in Mexico City, and 14 other groups held their own rallies around the country.

The journalists were beaten, starved, and threatened, but were ultimately freed shortly after the rally, and the kidnappers arrested.  Nonetheless, all four reporters are seeking asylum in the U.S., on the grounds that, as journalists, they are persecuted by a government that "can't and won't protect them."

In February, Mexico City was shaken by news of a double murder.  Twitter user @atorreta and her boyfriend were both shot walking home from dinner, and her brother reported the whole episode from the hospital with tweet after tragic tweet.  The Mexico City Twitter community erupted in a fury of rage, angst, and calls for justice.  Online news sources published the story on their front pages.  And hours later, everyone learned that the entire story was false, made up.

It's not clear who made it up.  What is clear is that Mexican cartels have grown ever more sophisticated in their own use of social media, executing a well-thought through media strategy, using all the tools in their toolbox. This episode is characteristic of the sort of manipulation and misinformation that bad actors can use to their advantage on a frenzied network like Twitter.

So what do we have here? A case study in how social media can be used for organizing and sharing ideas, and a cautionary tale against taking Twitter at its word. Beyond that, two arguments for the necessity of good reporters, and good journalism.

If we take seriously the right to information, we must also take seriously the right to inform. Even in this technology-dense world-- perhaps even more so than before-- we rely on good journalism to give us a platform for intelligent debate. Here in Mexico, where journalists are shot dead for reporting on corruption, or threatened and silenced for calling out the cartels, there is a dearth of good information about these issues, and not enough informed debate. New media and technologies will be a part of bridging that gap. And so will good reporters.

Mexico's Mobile Monopoly

I'm in Mexico right now, investigating the use of mobile phones and other new technologies by nonprofits, NGOs, and small civil society organizations in this country.  My research is only just begun, but I've already encountered one major barrier to small groups leveraging the expansive mobile network and innovating tools and platforms using mobile services.

Telcel is Mexico's largest mobile phone operator, and for many in the country, the only option. Around 75% of all mobile subscriptions in the country are with Telcel-- a bit like if Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were one company in the U.S., but instead of Sprint as an alternative, you had three or four smaller companies. A formerly government-owned company, Telcel was sold into private hands just a few years ago, and while some users I've talked to report that coverage and service has gotten a little better, prices have gone way, way up.

As Samhir wrote on Thursday, part of what has driven sky-high adoption rates in many developing countries is vigorous competition between mobile operators, driving down prices.  In India, a 1-minute call costs about 7 cents (adjusted for PPP), and a text message costs the same. In Indonesia, voice is expensive (as much as 32 cents/minute), but sending an SMS costs only 3 cents. In Ghana, a text costs 7 cents, and in nearby Panama, where three robust mobile operators compete aggressively, it's only 4 cents.

In Mexico, sending a text message with Telcel costs as much as 14 cents (again, adjusted for PPP), and for pre-paid subscribers (a group that includes most poorer people) the rates can be higher. Voice, meanwhile, can cost close to 50 cents per minute. Clearly, this is a serious barrier for adoption among poorer people, and a barrier for groups that may benefit from the network's reach.

What's more, when Carlos Slim and his América Móvil corporation took over Telcel from the government, they did so on the agreement that they would expand the network to cover all the many rural villages around Mexico, including those here in mountainous Oaxaca.  Progress has been halting at best.  Despite this, it's not uncommon to meet people who have no mobile coverage where they live, and yet own a mobile phone.  They have one, they say, for when they travel into the city, or for the phone's entertainment features. In fact, over 70% of Mexicans own a mobile phone. But the use of the platform has been limited.

While mobile has been tricky here in Mexico, internet growth has been very strong, with 19% year-on-year growth in the number of users, helping make Latin America the fastest growing region in the world for internet usage. Social networking, communication, and online entertainment are all big here, and e-commerce is beginning to make an impact.  As long as Telcel's monopoly on mobile persists, we'll likely continue to see internet as a stronger force in society.

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