Above: Researcher Amanda Watson (R) from the Queensland University of Technology chats with a member of the audience at the INA seminar
The findings of the first ever research into the use of mobile phones in rural Papua New Guinea, were presented today at a seminar organized by the Institute of National Affairs (INA). Amanda Watson, a PHD candidate from the Queensland University of Technology, carried out her research on the North Coast of Madang Province in 2009.
Ms Watsons key finding was that mobile phone use in rural Papua New Guinea was for social use rather than functional. She added that usage was also limited to communication between relatives. This she said was inconsistent with the patterns of usage elsewhere where the mobile phone has many economic usages.
A local cocoa producer she interviewed on Karkar Island told her that he did not feel that there was any economic benefit from using mobile phones. She clarified this statement by adding that this may be due to the fact that other enabling factors such as market information and transport systems weren’t in place. She did come across and highlands couple who had travelled to KarKar to buy betelnut and were communicating via mobile phone. Paul Barker from INA later commented that mobile company Digicel and the Fresh Food Development Company were now providing market information to farmers in the highlands.
Ms Watson also highlighted some practical and policy recommendations which she felt were necessary. She noted that the cost burden of mobiles phones was still too high for many subsistence farmers. These costs were related to recharging of credits and phone batteries as well as the fragility of handsets. She said that the benefits of opening up of the mobile market to competition should now be used to add impetus to opening of other sectors of the economy to competition.
Most of the people who participated were very positive about the use of mobile phones particularly for contacting loved ones and during time critical emergencies. They were however concerned about the use of the phones for committing adultery, illicit sex, and for coordinating criminal activities. Ms Watson therefore highlighted the need to further assess the social impacts of mobile phones in Papua New Guinea.
Meanwhile, a representative from Digicel PNG spoke at the end of the session about the company’s move to introduce mobile money. He said the service will be available to Digicel PNG’s customers next month under the brand name “CELLMONI.” Digicel CellMoni will allow Digicel PNG customers to lodge and withdraw money via a secure electronic wallet on Digicel mobile phones. Preregistration for this service is now available to Digicel customers.