Liberia: Are you better off with "2-3-1" than you were with "3-7-7-4-7"?


By Mohamedu F. Jones

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 8, 2004

I began to think about where Liberia's telecommunications was headed when beginning three weeks ago I could no longer simply pick up my cell phone from wherever I was in the United States and call home to talk legal matters with my colleagues at Jones & Jones, or tell a relative what the "Control Number" was or find out how an elderly relative was coming along. It is not very clear to me why cell phone access to Liberia was changed to Liberia's country code, 2-3-1, from the Monaco country and city codes, 3-7-7-4-7. Notwithstanding the rationale behind the change, for me the larger question is whether Liberia is better off. What benefit has it been to use 2-3-1 for cell phones and will be going into the future?

"It would be difficult to overstate the significance of telecommunications in today's economy and virtually impossible to overstate its likely importance in the future. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, telecommunications has become the central nervous system of the economy. Just as the railroads once promoted economic growth and development, telecommunications is now globalizing markets, reducing transactions costs, expanding productivity, and directly increasing economic well-being." (John Haring, "Telecommunications").

Considering the analysis above presented by Mr. Haring, former chief economist at the United States Federal Communications Commission and former chief of the Commission's Office of Plans and Policy, it is plain to me that not being able to readily telephone Liberia anymore, as one could do just a month ago, means that the "central nervous system of the economy" of Liberia, an already ailing economy, has a recurrent disease – the country is again on the "Cannot-Call" list.

"In addition to its direct contribution to end-users, the telecommunication networks and their use generate significant spill over effects in other sectors of the economy. Once the telecommunication infrastructure is built in any nation, it is available to all sectors of the economy and has good public characteristics." Direct Effects of Telecommunications on Economic Development. The writer goes on to state: "Telecommunications helps the rapid movement of information from one country to another and allow optimal utilization of available technology, products and services around the world, thus helping to improve the global economy. International telecommunication networks can improve the global economy in many other ways." In face of this, Liberia has moved further along the path of the digital divide – widening this essential gap.

"Telecommunications lower the fixed and variable costs of information acquisition and an expansion of telecommunications generates cost saving externalities in other markets," (Nandi 2002). As for Liberia, however, when we call we get either "Your call cannot be completed at this time in the country you dialed" or even "Your international call cannot be completed as dialed." To exacerbate matters, if your call had gone through, the rate per minute would be higher. Finally, you even lose time on you calling cards even as the call does not go through. Okay, let me call Liberia "0-1-1-3-7-7-4-7" -- ahhhhhhh!