Laos has a very large diaspora in proportion to its population - something like 1 in 7 Laotians live in other countries. Family is extremely important in the Laotian culture - I am told that a small wedding involves 1000 participants. Family members in the diaspora (which includes the US, Europe and other Asian countries) send back remittances that account for an important part of the Laotian economy. In Phon Kham there were a few very good houses built with such remittances.
While local telephone rates are prohibitive for the villagers, a trip (2-3 hours each way) to Vientiane brings them to Internet cafes at which they can make Internet phone calls to their overseas relatives. I was told that there is a constant stream of Hmong - the minority population recruited by the CIA for its secret armies in the sixties and thus a major component of the diaspora - into Vientiane to make internet phone calls. As I understand, they lack a written language, so this is the only way they can communicate with their absent family members.
Where money flows one way, products can flow the other way, and commerce can occur, once regular communication is established. The women of Phon Kham make fine woven fabrics that are bought at a pittance by middlement and sold for hundreds of dollars in Japan and the West. The villagers would like to have a bigger part of this bounty, and there is a market among Laotians in the diaspora for such fabrics - they're used in cultural events such as weddings.
With Internet telecommunications they could set up small-scale trade of fabrics through their relatives in the diaspora. This is not an isolated possibility. With the ability to exchange graphic patterns one can imagine that they could exchange information on patterns. But they won't need us to tell them about this.
In my view diaspora populations are the hidden powers in economic development through telecommunications, which works both ways and benefits both ends of the line. Keep your eye on them.