For 30 years, the American Federal government, for example, helped millions of low-income Americans pay their phone bills, saying that telephone service is critical to summoning medical help, seeking work and, ultimately, climbing out of poverty. Now, the nation’s top communications regulator, the F.C.C Chief proposes offering those same people subsidized access to Broadband Internet.
A wonderful idea but can we do the same in Africa?
What do I know?
The news in the US did not come without internal bickering and vehement conservative capitalist opposition.
Reliably, a significant majority of avid readers of the New York Times – a self-acclaimed humane newspaper, but really just a sooth publication – are already issuing dire warnings about a Federal Fraud in a Lifeline program – the horrifying prospect of the dirty poor, that good-for-nothing family using subsidized advanced Internet access partly for entertainment?
Trotting out these ‘poor choices’ memes, such as: how dare someone who, at some point in their past, paid for tattoos worth some 1400 bucks in change, ever hope for assistance; since she’s obviously guilty of ever using money for a non-essential?
The unfortunate calibration of the ordinary American mind is this simple.
If only America could pay the same close attention to Corporate Fraud and other ‘poor choices’ among the top one percent who now own almost all of America and the world, and who burden the American people, the taxpayers’, billions, if not trillions of dollars in lost tax revenue and never-to-be-repaid damage to their personal finances, now and in the future, perhaps then, America would change.
But the poor are such an easy target in America. If they can pretend poverty is the fault of the poor, or some punishment visited upon them by God or Allah, or even Karma, and not a phenomenon carefully built into a political and social system, as it has been successfully implemented in world political and economic systems – by the same folks, the one percentors – then they themselves will be magically preserved from ever becoming poor themselves! Since bad things happen only to bad people. And they can feel so righteous and perhaps exceptional even, about denying aid to the dirty poor.
In America, in spite of repeated promises from Telecom giants to wire rural America in exchange for insane profiteering merges, they still don’t have Broadband Internet. Americans don’t have cell service unless they can stand on the chicken coup facing south and lift their heavily app-padded iPhones towards the ungodly sky, as if to tap into an alien ship.
Their bedfellows in a party that has come to be known as the Republicans, another name for inhumane politics and policy posturing, just cut a deal with a company called AT&T to strip American homes of land lines without demanding in exchange, the promises of Broadband.
Try Internet satellite in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Oregon, Indiana and Western Pennsylvania. The far-side of the Moon is a more hospitable habitat. The cost? Three times what a congressman would pay for Broadband in Washington. Reliability? Watch the lightning rods ignite with fear in inclement weather. Speed? You could milk old Bessie waiting for a single page to load. That in sum describes the politics of capitalism in the United States of America.
That capitalism is what Africa wishes to import or has been importing with verve and stupidity – strange playfellows but fusible nonetheless – much like their fellow Americans!
Pew! What do I know?
Affordable access to telecommunications services especially the Internet as proposed by America’s F. C. C. Chief, appears to be a sure way of citizen empowerment in the context of a globalised world and knowledge economy.
That alone is what Africa must emulate. That alone is what points to a social economy, not a capitalist one. For there is no capitalist past and present, who sees ‘free’ as an acceptable vocabulary in business. Show me one and I will show you a capitalist working feverishly to take the trek to high Heaven or Paradise – just how our fellow Christians daydream it at dawn.
But, I am sorry, though that bubble is yet to bust in Africa, the news must still spread: there is no Heaven. This planet is all you’ve got. Broadband Internet, cell phones and computers, like a floating tiny canoe carrying an important note down the river, have become an integral part of it. And in just the same way that the river and her current was free to use – to send your message across and down stream – in that little wooded canoe, Internet likewise, must be free, in America and in Africa too!
A humane program, like America’s Lifeline, is in order and always presents a way forward towards the hallmark of any civilized peoples. By extending lifelines to the dirty poor, Internet companies stand a real chance to expand their customer base in civilized ways.
Europeans, in Norway – a socially and economically advanced nation – especially, pay the equivalent of about 25 dollars a month for a package that includes high-speed Internet, basic cable television, and unlimited telephone calls including talks to the US and 100+ countries. And this is the socialist bastion of Europe, where prices are low because regulators legislate away communications monopolies and gasp; by so doing they also force real, not imagined, competition.
At such low prices, Europe’s ISPs almost all manage to still turn inhumane profits.
When socialist European regulators embrace a humane market in this way – a very human characteristic – while Republicans in the US Congress or Oligarchs around the world who look up to them on the one hand blather on about the wonders of the capitalist free market while on the other hand, block any effort to break up their sponsors’ communications oligopolies, you begin to see not humans, but devils.
Yes they exist here on earth. Devils!
If African telecommunication businesses can be sincere, they would follow in the Norwegian example. They would innovate, they would invest! They would be forcing intense competition, which would lower prices for all consumers, making it affordable even for the dirty poor without subsidies.
That is the future. And it shouldn’t matter whether you live on a farm; you need not climb your chicken coup to talk to your mother 1 kilometer away in the other village!
But what do I know?