Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rural Electrification and Communication

Vietnam Rural Television Viewing: Photo by WB Hanoi
Today most of us take electronic communications for granted. We are tethered to our emails, televisions, and computers.  Facebook, Twitter, sports and entertainment all are made possible by a combination of electricity and technology. Does this improve our productivity?  The answer is a resounding yes. Does it also make life more complicated? You bet. In fact, sometimes we feel that the world is getting too interconnected. This raises the question about how to value the electronic communication benefits of modern communications, and it is not an easy issue to tackle.

For the 1.6 billion people in this world who do not have access to electricity their electronic communication needs are more basic. People without grid or off the grid electricity often rely on battery powered radios for their communication devices. For people that adopt electricity for the first time, after household lighting the next most commonly purchased electronic device often is a television or a fan. Therefore in this blog, I am going to concentrate on televisions use and their implications for households with and without electricity.

For more on this issue continue below.....

Source: Philippines Survey
Before turning to the use of television, there were some interesting questions asked in a past study of rural electrification benefits in the Philippines. People were asked to agree or disagree with the following statements: it is difficult to get news and entertainment; watching TV is a great source of news and information; and watching TV provides my family great entertainment. The results were that almost all households—both those with and without electricity—thought that television was a great source for news and information. In fact, questions on television viewing habits indicated that vast majority of households would watch the evening news, local sports, and soap operas. Somewhat over a majority of households without electricity agreed that it was difficult to get news and entertainment. Finally it is interesting that many people without electricity could see its value and agreed with the statement that watching television provided the family with great entertainment. One negative finding was that parents were worried that television took study time away from children.

Source: Peru and Philippines Surveys
The television viewing hours and the cost of operating a television were examined in the same survey in the Philippines and another survey in Peru. The cost of viewing mostly color televisions sets for families with grid electricity was quite similar at about one cent per hour in both the Philippines and Peru. By contrast in the Philippines families with mostly small portable televisions operated on dry cell batteries paid about over 20 cents per viewing hour. In Peru there were quite a few households that used car batteries, and their television viewing costs were about 5 cents per hour. The cost of television viewing per hour also was related to the costs. Those viewing television the most were the households with grid electricity averaging over 100 hours per month in the Philippines and over 200 hours per month in Peru. In the Philippines the car batteries are used mostly for lighting at the time of the survey, and these households were in fairly remote areas that may not have received a television signal. As a result the viewing hours per month in the Philippines using the expensive portable televisions was only about 2 hours. By contrast in Peru some people without grid electricity use car batteries for operating their television and they use their sets about 80 hours per month or about three hours per night.

 Source: Peru an Philippines Surveys
There are ways to value the benefits of viewing television that I will not go into in this blog, but they are mainly based on the value of cheaper television viewing hours that are apparent for grid electricity in these studies. The methods can be found in the report on the benefits of rural electrification in the Philippines and in a recent review of the welfare impact of rural electrification completed by the Internal Evaluation Group of the World Bank. One drawback is that there are few studies that look at the more qualitative benefits of modern communications, such as integrating rural people into the national culture, the value of a more informed population, or just simply the value of communicating with family and friends.

So do you think television is a great source of entertainment news and information? Let’s see how your responses compare with those from rural Philippines and Peru.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I think it is very interesting to trace the energy spectrum and human behavior - what do people do with electricity and how does it changes their lives. There is the current phenomenon taking place now with modern energy that you mention of being "too interconnected" and "too dependent on technology". The NYTimes is continuously putting out articles how this is effecting school children - their attention span, ability to read books, and have non-technology related activities. It is just interesting to see what oftentimes becomes people's first purchase (a TV) becomes something that is highly disputed given some of the negative behavioral changes it can create.

One question I always had was - are there trainings done with TVs to help users in their day to day life - schooling programs, educational programs that are practical for different age groups and relevant to the local context (eg, agricultural, small business, etc). Basically almost have a function of what computers can do with training - but since computers aren't within reach of purchase, a TV could serve as a first phase of learning/training materials?