The income generating opportunities are also aplenty. Local villages would need to have their own, “telcom provider,” who could now be a local individual trained in the ways of the Mesh Potato and all the proceeds would stay local (local, local, local… did I say local?). Ideally, villagers would be trained and hired to maintain the network, other villagers would become customers, and all the money would stay in the village (this being the typical capitalist trickle-down philosophy). The ideal situation is not always the one that pans out, but it is often a very enticing picture and may be enough to interest otherwise skeptical individuals.
One of the biggest inhibiting factors, like everything, is cost. Though Village Telco is shooting for a $50 per unit cost, right now the more realistic cost is $80. Also, there is the, “I want what they have,” factor, whereby people may see this as, “too different,” and not enough like what they see others in more developed areas having, therefore making it a hard sell. Finally, there is the problem of not connecting to the larger providers at first. Many people who buy a mobile phone want it to be able to talk to people anywhere. Limiting where individuals can talk may also be a difficult aspect of the scheme that makes it hard to sell.
However, the concept seems simple enough to warrant a try. It’s not a permanent solution and does not scale as well as traditional grid-based utilities do, but the whole notion of local ownership is to give people what they want (or need) now instead of waiting for someone else to bring it to them. In fact, this seems the mantra of most of the development work I have seen since coming to Kenya: get something going now, and let the Market figure things out later. My only concern is how well the, “now solution,” will integrate with the future, but I think the reason I like the Mesh Potato so much is that it seems that a strong design component is future integration, which means the project will also hopefully have a future as well.
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