In the West African country of Ghana, one of the world’s poorest places, the busy signal is a reminder of the unfulfilled promise of the Information Age. Making a telephone call here requires persistence. Roughly half don’t go through because of system failures, but that’s only the start of Ghana’s telephone woes. The country has a mere 240,000 phone lines – for a population of 20 million spread across an area the size of Britain. Moreover, telephone bills are inaccurate, overcharges common, and the installation of a new line can cost a business more than $1,000, the rough equivalent of the annual office rent. Lines are frequently stolen, sometimes with the connivance of employees of Ghana Telecom, the national carrier. Phones go dead, and remain unrepaired, for months. Some businesses hire staff for the chief purpose of dialing numbers until calls go through.
How can we make a difference to countries like Ghana via technology?