Re: [gaia] [hrpc] Fibre Feudalism

Sonia Jorge <> Sat, 20 October 2018 10:06 UTC

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From: Sonia Jorge <>
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Date: Sat, 20 Oct 2018 06:06:38 -0400
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Subject: Re: [gaia] [hrpc] Fibre Feudalism
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Hi All,

Interesting discussion here. One that might warrant a webinar/conference call among interested people? Steve, what do you think? I would be happy to join a stimulating discussion on the topic, starting with your blog and the Access Model. 

Amelia, can you point me to some evidence or a paper (anything you may have) that shows that relationship between USO and quality of infrastructure? I find that very difficult to believe but open to be proven wrong. 

Something important to keep in mind is that countries where USO have been more instrumental are also countries that have traditionally been poorer and behind in terms of infrastructure development; this is certainly the case in some Southern European countries and maybe Eastern European ones as well. So the level of economic development overall is a key variable. 

As for Africa and/or infrastructure investments, I could share a lot here, but for now let me call your attention to some reports we produced and that can add to the discussion. 
- A4AI’s annual Affordability Report: Note that the 2018 report will be launched and published on Tuesday and addresses key questions relevant to this discussion, specially on costs associated with infrastructure investment
- a recent blog on infrastructure costs and challenges:
- For those interested in USFs in Africa, see

Sonia Jorge
Executive Director, A4AI
Head of Digital Inclusion, Web Foundation

> On Oct 20, 2018, at 05:33, Amelia Andersdotter <> wrote:
> Hi all,
> It might be helpful to know that EU countries where Universal Service
> Obligations have been extensively used and applied, also typically have
> worse infrastructure than EU countries where USO wasn't well applied.
> Applying USO means you put the government in a position where it faces
> off with the service provider under USO in a negotiation. The service
> provider has information advantage and typically a better relationship
> to its consumers than the government has to its citizens (so a
> communications advantage too). I lack experience of the African markets
> and their regulators, but in broad strokes those are the issues faced in
> various European jurisdictions with USO and I'm assuming similar
> difficulties would arise in the African setting. This is a bit
> theoretical, and I'm just curious how to avoid these information
> asymmetries?
> As it is described by Steven, the current feudalism (operators A, B and
> C all collaborate as soon as they own physical fibre networks) also
> incentivises many actors to get into the infrastructure market. That's
> fundamentally a good thing: it means not all the last-mile is owned by a
> few big actors who need to be regulated by a regulator who is
> fundamentally at a disadvantage compared to the big actors. It's the
> main criticism targetting the Local Loop Unbundling reform of 1999 in
> the EU as well - challengers don't invest enough in last-mile
> infrastructure (except in those EU markets where many different actors
> have had regulatory incentives to build their own networks, or where
> there has been purposeful public investment in last-mile). Or am I
> misunderstanding something?
> best regards,
> Amelia
>> On 2018-10-04 20:52, Steve Song wrote:
>> Hi Mallory,
>> Thanks for that!  I think you are on exactly the right track in terms
>> of thinking about economic models.  Thanks to Erick Huerta of
>> Rhizomatica, I am very taken with the thinking of French economic
>> historian, Fernand Braudel.  Braudel argues that the world has three
>> economies not one.  A global economy which is the well-known
>> capitalist economic model where monopoly is the perfect end-game in
>> theory for every player.  Google, Colgate, Coca-Cola, all the usual
>> suspects form part of this economy.  The second economy is the Local
>> Economy where services are specific to the city/community where you
>> live.  This might be your local butcher, baker, plumbers or even
>> larger service provider which offers services that grow out of local
>> demand and which serve local needs in more unique ways than the Global
>> Economy.  The third economy is the Subsistence economy where market
>> forces may not operate because there is not sufficient traditional
>> capital to make it work.  This is the world of the informal economy
>> with barters, cooperatives, community initiatives that directly
>> contribute to the overall economy but are largely unmeasured by
>> traditional statistics.  And woven among these are both commercial and
>> commons models, which can operate with varying success at the
>> different levels.  
>> When viewed through this lens, it is easy to see how regulation has
>> only enabled the global economy in telecommunication and that there is
>> a need for enabling regulations to nurture telecom initiatives in the
>> Local and Subsistence economies.  
>> For me this also highlights a key flaw in models like the World Bank's
>> Access Gap model
>> <>. It
>> is not so much that the model is wrong, it is just one-dimensional;
>> assuming that successful global capitalism is the best of all possible
>> outcomes.
>> Writing more about this shortly.
>> Cheers... Steve
>> On Thu, 4 Oct 2018 at 10:57, Mallory Knodel <
>> <>> wrote:
>>    Hi Steve,
>>    Thanks for sharing. I read it last night and I really enjoyed it. I
>>    think the metaphor is solid economically. And politically, well, that
>>    could be another post in and of itself.
>>    The agrarian commons would of course be ideal, but what we have is a
>>    sort of old-world economic structure that politically controls and
>>    profits from (what should be) the commons. This sets you up nicely to
>>    call for modern economic models ranging from squarely capitalist to
>>    socialist, and even (back to) the commons!
>>    I'm CCing HRPC because it might be of interest to those who have
>>    raised
>>    issues of centralisation on the list in the past.
>>    -Mallory
>>>    On 04/10/2018 15:30, Steve Song wrote:
>>> Hi all,
>>> This is a reflection on the current state of terrestrial fibre
>>> infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa (but I think applies just about
>>> everywhere).  
>>> Curious to know how apt you feel the metaphor is or any other
>>    reactions
>>> you may have. 
>>> Thanks.... Steve Song
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> gaia mailing list
>>> <>
>>    -- 
>>    Mallory Knodel
>>    Head of Digital :: <>
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> -- 
> Amelia Andersdotter
> Technical Consultant, Digital Programme
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