Media and telecom investors think infrastructure is the first way to truly tap into Web consumers’ spending capabilities.

What hangs in the balance is how that will be done, and where.

Private equity plays like Silver Lake Capital’s surprising Skype buy will help drive domestic value; younger Web consumers are increasingly consuming online media and the popular Web video networking site represents a powerful growth opportunity for its 2009 buyer, said Julie Richardson, managing director of Providence Equity Partners, who spoke at the Argyle Executive Forum’s 2010 Deal Making in Media & Telecom Conference Tuesday in New York City.

Panelists agreed that more federal spending to boost the national data infrastructure network is both needed, and expected, later this year when stimulus funds are made available. As smartphones proliferate (and they are becoming a more dominant segment of the mobile phone market) the need for high-capacity data infrastructure increases as well.

Overseas, more infrastructure is needed as well, panel experts agreed—just a different kind.

For the most part, private equity kept out of the telecom industry in 2009, to the lament of some conference participants, but now, as emerging markets are reshaped by the definitions of the post-recession economy, markets like India present companies willing to engage in growth plays long-term opportunities.

The African wireless infrastructure market presents some salient opportunities to investors, said David Terry, founder of TAP Advisors and former chairman of UBS’ global telecom group.

While the US needs development of more powerful and efficient mobile technology, which in turn presents growth opportunities for PE investors that can finance it, Africa and India are both still developing more integrated networks that depend on more tower construction.

Emerging Capital Partners, a regular investor in African telecom companies, has blazed a trail onto the continent and remains committed to similar plays. Over the years, the PE firm has put funds into Zain Gabon, MTN Cote d’Ivorie, Cellcom and Wananchi Group Holdings; they are TV and telecom companies operating across Africa. ECP has exited more than a dozen similar investments.

“Companies in emerging markets are going to be where value is created,” Terry said.