Mobile Use Behaviour in Liberia

During my work with ITC on Liberia, I was in touch with field contacts and I had the opportunity to discuss the state of the mobile telephony sector there, the available services and their prices. One of my reliable contacts there shared with me the following information. She said, that the average amount spent on pre-paid mobile phone cards (aka scratch cards) in Liberia is $5 per month. Apparently, most of the $5 of airtime credit  is used up within a few days of scratching the card. How could we possibly account for such behaviour? I’ve been thinking up hypotheses about it:

  1. One obvious suggestion would be that people go into the trouble and expense of getting the scratch card because they have some particular significant information need, or emergency which requires conversations at considerable length. Then the question becomes, how is it that these events re-occcur with considerable regularity, approximately every month?
  2. A variant of the same scenario would be the use of the airtime for a short but expensive conversation. For example, parents in Liberia calling their children overseas.
  3. A completely differnet way of looking at it, would relate to the nature of the social networks people are part of. Say, for example, if someone has enough money to buy credit then he/she is expected to get in touch with many people in order to re-affirm their identity as part of a group.
  4. Yet another scenario would be that once someone had airtime credit on their phone, the airtime credit is considered communal. So the people in their immediate surrounding feel entitled to use the phone.

What do you think? Any suggestions on the matter?

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