Friday, April 5, 2013

RFD (USA) = SMS (RSA)

In 1896 postal letter carriers in the United States began Rural Free Delivery (RFD) as an experiment in a few rural communities, but the pressure upon Congress to expand the program was enormous. By 1901 there were nearly 77,000 post offices providing RFD, and by 1902 RFD had been established in nearly every state. As the first short video below shows, there were detractors in Congress who asserted that RFD was too expensive. Private companies using road and rail service also tried to stop RFD from carrying larger packages. But the power of the Grange farmer organization, which took on the role of advocating for meeting the social needs of and combating the economic backwardness of farm life, won the battle for RFD on behalf of rural citizens.

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This second video, which appears to be the excellent work of student(s), describes in more detail how mail order catalog companies using RFD transformed the lives of rural citizens. As we shall see later, this same transformation is now occurring in countries like the Republic of South Africa (RSA), but using different technology that is moving benefits to the rural communities at even a faster speed.


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Telkom is a company run and owned by the RSA government that provided landline telephone services to the country for decades. In 1993 the government awarded contracts two cell phone providers. The first contract went to Telecom itself, which partnered with Vodafone of the UK and the Rembrandt Group of South Africa. The new company was called Vodacom. Consumers rapidly embraced cell telephony, which innovated quickly, driving cell use prices downwards, thereby accelerating the number of mobile phone users.

Mobile phones now connect rural communities into the larger RSA economy, which we see in this Davos Notebook blog video clip below. More than 75% of the population of 50 million are cell phone users in the country. Cell phones are not only connecting the rural population to the world of commerce, but also to better health services, agricultural support, and education. Just as RFD and mail order companies transformed the life of rural citizens in the USA, so too the cell phone is uplifting rural lives in the RSA and sub-Saharan Africa in general.


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