Uncommon Sense

Throughout history, the distance between technology and society has been a defining characteristic of nations, empires and peoples. While it’s tempting to say that the most technologically sophisticated societies represent the pinnacle of human achievement, that’s not necessarily true. Some would argue that keeping social values paramount and learning how to adapt technology to human needs is a more effective means to ensure the health of a society.

Unfortunately, health, happiness and social justice can’t always be judged using objective economic measures. How does one measure crimes that don’t happen, meals that don’t get missed, sick days not taken?

Economic indicators do serve a number of useful purposes, of course. The Pacific Economic Survey – I wrote about it here – includes some extremely useful and instructive data concerning the effects of market liberalisation on communications. It also pointed out some inherent weaknesses in Vanuatu and elsewhere in the region, particularly with regards to technical know-how.

People in Vanuatu could teach many an economist a thing or two about what makes for a meaningful and contented life. But isolation is part of what has made life in Vanuatu simpler and more relaxed, and as that isolation erodes, we find ourselves facing significant technical challenges, some of which have a steep learning curve.

The small group of individuals who have taken leadership in opening the telecommunications market in Vanuatu have been remarkably successful thus far. People close to the process agree that the settlement agreement and the new licenses are extremely well framed. They have learned by the example of those countries who went before, and have created a comprehensive and detailed framework with very little ambiguity. This allows Digicel, Telecom Vanuatu and future entrants to focus on doing business rather than bogging themselves down in legalese, negotiation and other distractions.

But there remains much to be decided, and much to be done:

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