Influencing pro-poor telecommunication policies in Asia

June 10, 2016
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Rohan Samarajiva

Rohan Samarajiva, LIRNEasia CEO

Ahmed T Rashid

A study on mobile phone use by the poor has resulted in the cancellation of a plan to tax mobile usage in Bangladesh. Surveys on mobile expenditures in several South Asian countries found that nearly half of the poor people in Bangladesh own a mobile phone. Ownership rates are even higher in Pakistan (65%) and Sri Lanka (71%). The survey also revealed that the poorer the people, the larger the share of mobile expenditure relative to personal income. As a result, taxes on mobile phones would have a greater impact on the poor than other users. 

In developing countries, the poor value the mobile phone highly, as it is often their only mode of communication.

“Research suggests that the mobile phone is a merit good, one that will contribute to economic growth and improve the lives of its users,” says Rohan Samarajiva, CEO of LIRNEasia, the Sri Lanka-based think tank which conducted the study. LIRNEasia, a long-standing partner of IDRC, has also been successful in influencing pro-poor telecommunication policies in Sri Lanka and India. 

The study underscored the important role of widespread adoption of mobiles in other sectors of the economy. For example, research on agricultural value chains for rubber and pineapple in Sri Lanka revealed the inconsistency of price information in rural areas, as well as the inadequacy of agricultural extension services, which resulted in the poor performance of these sectors. In India, by comparison, the pro-active use of information dissemination through information communication technologies improved the efficiency of value chains and improved the quality of information.

Learn more about LIRNEasia's research on the impact of innovation and technology on the poor.​