Following up from a post I made earlier on cellphones and conflict, came across this interesting news story on how mobile phones are revolutionising information delivery in China, on some issues at least.
China’s population of cell phone users — the world’s biggest — long ago surpassed the country’s 365 million fixed-line phones, and is growing rapidly.
Cell phone use has spread from affluent urbanites to fishermen, blue-collar workers and farmers in the poor countryside. It isn’t unusual to find villages with no fixed lines but dozens of cell phone customers.
Chinese cell phone carriers have built a nationwide network with such extensive coverage that phones work in places as far flung as the Tibetan plateau and the northwestern deserts.
The government has encouraged the spread of mobile phones because their infrastructure is cheaper than fixed-line phones, which require expensive networks of wires to link homes and businesses.
That said, there are severe limitations to the use of mobiles to promote rights and democracy. As this BBC News report highlights, China routinely censors SMS messages sent through mobile phones. So progressive attitudes towards some issues, such as the use of SMS for disaster warning and public health hazards, unfortunately does not vitiate an authoritarian regime’s continuing censorship of information within the country.