Provisional Mission Statement: Improving the lives the people of Asia – by making it easier to use the information and communication technologies they need; by changing the laws, policies and regulations to enable those uses; by building Asia-based human capacity through research, training, consulting and advocacy.
Enormous amounts of money are invested annually in ICTs. The potential of information and communication technologies, or ICTs for economic and social progress is substantial. ICTs aren’t necessarily the answer to higher incomes and development in itself; but together with other factors, they provide a means to improve people’s capabilities and knowledge so that they may better their lives. ‘Asia’ is the collective name for the countries roughly encircled by Russia, Turkey, Egypt and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There is little that the entire region holds in common. Within this vast continent, lies South Asia, home to the largest concentration of poor people in the world. Yet Asia is seen as driving the global economy and is home to some of the world’s highest ICT industry performers. Korea has the highest broadband penetration rate as well as the second highest estimated number of Internet users in the world. Taiwan (China) has the highest number of mobile phones per hundred inhabitants in the world; Hong Kong (China) has the third highest (ITU, 2004). But Asia is also home to some of the lowest: the Internet is used by less than one per cent of the population in DPR Korea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Cambodia, just to name a few. There are less than two telephones (fixed or mobile) per one hundred people in several of these countries (ITU, 2004). Broadband penetration is barely worth mentioning in many of Asia’s poorer nations. In terms of ICT sector performance, there are many Asias. ICT use in Asia and developing countries is held back by laws and regulations. The existing policy and regulatory arrangements do not help people use ICTs to live their lives; they actively hinder them, for the most part. Very often, especially in South Asia, laws and regulations restrict, or even preclude the exploitation of new low-cost technologies, such as Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is ideally suited for developing countries, it is a very low-cost and convenient technology developed by multiple small manufacturers because the United States government chose to unregulate two bands of frequencies (2.4 GHz and 5.8GHz), also called the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands. Subject to minimal safeguards, people were free to do whatever they wanted in these bands. Today, pretty much every laptop you buy has got Wi-Fi built in. The equipment is cheap and ideal for countries where purchasing power is low. However, the frequency band that Wi-Fi operates in is regulated in most other countries. In Sri Lanka, for example, the law requires operators to obtain a license for ‘every frequency emitting apparatus’ from the telecom regulator. Although some operators, like LIRNEasia’s service provider have managed to include Wi-Fi services within the scope of their licenses, the full potential of the service cannot be achieved unless the law is changed. Unlicensing or deregulation of this band would greatly reduce the cost of making use of this technology, allowing the cost to users to reflect the true cost of the technology, not arbitrary regulatory charges. This is the kind of thing that we will seek to promote and facilitate.
LIRNEasia’s mission is to improve the lives the people of Asia; by making it easier to use the information and communication technologies that they need; by changing the laws, policies and regulations to enable those uses; by building Asia-based human capacity through research, training, consulting and advocacy. To that end, LIRNEasia will endeavor to transform governance and regulation of ICTs in the Asian region from obstructive, inhibiting regimes, into ones that will allow opportunities for people to use ICTs in ways that will improve their lives and to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to introduce new products and services with a minimum of government interference. Our immediate priority is building a team of Asian ICT policy and regulatory professionals that can work on equal terms with the best in the world. Initially concentrating on the South Asian and Bay of Bengal areas, LIRNEasia will soon expand its scope to the rest of Asia, with the help of our regional partners. Sri Lanka will anchor this effort, but it will be a genuinely regional initiative, drawing on human capacity from the region itself. We will focus on creating and disseminating independent, useable, actionable knowledge, through applied research, on documenting and disseminating regional best practices, on training and on some forms of short-term advisory assistance to governments/parties who request it. Our primary audiences are government (including bilateral and multilateral donor agencies), the private sector within and outside Asia and civil society. We emphasize Asian expertise, but are not exclusive about it. We do case studies, but our policy is to abstract from the complexity to produce information that other countries can use.
‘We aim to build a virtual organization that will one day make working from Bhutan as easy as working from this office. We will work in teams; we will work flexibly and we will work effectively. The organization centered on this office will help each person work to their full capacity; it will be a learning organization; a place where creativity is valued and debate encouraged. It will not be a place to clock in and out from; to engage in office intrigue; or to worry about the next promotion. It will add to your productivity, not drain it.’ -Rohan, LIRNEasia office opening
Currently, LIRNEasia’s physical presence consists of two full time staff, an executive director and a compact 15 by 20 ft office under the leafy shade of an ancient Mara tree at the back of the parking lot of SLIDA, the administrative training academy of Sri Lanka, in Colombo. Neither our size nor our location will in any way limit our possibilities. With a small administrative core, much of our work will be facilitated through extended networks across Asia. The value of this is parallel to that of networks according to Metcalfe’s law: the total value of a network is greater than the sum of the number of its users. We already have several researchers and partners across South Asia involved in our first projects. As far as technology and cost permit, LIRNEasia will function as a virtual organization, with small ‘wireless, paperless’ offices located in a few South Asian countries at a second stage. These offices will function primarily as administrative units, as well as communication points, where, for example, someone in Dhaka can participate in a project meeting, taking place in Colombo via video conferencing facilities at a Dhaka office. As well as a facilitator of innovative ICT uses, we aim to be an exemplar. Our office is one of the few Wi-Fi hotspots in Sri Lanka. At LIRNEasia’s inaugural event, the 2004 WDR Expert Forum at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, a temporary hotspot was provided for the participants, so they could check their email from their seat at the forum, saving them the hassle of going down to the hotel’s highly priced Business Center for Internet access. We also hope to collaborate or make use of the Distance Learning Center Limited, an advanced video-conferencing and IT-based teaching facility at the SLIDA office, onsite. Our website is a user friendly work and discussion platform, adapting innovations from the blogging culture. Animated discussion and debate, and is open to anyone interested. Whilst making innovative use of technologies, we emphasize the building of relationships and common values among our team members. Regular colloquia are held for our local partners to share information on discuss hot topics. In the future, we even expect that our regional partners can be virtually present at these, by the use of whatever technology possible. For the most part, the project teams will not be in the same country, so for this reason it is very important that we have effective mechanisms for the seamless coordination and completion of our work. Additionally, the significance of Colombo office as the base of LIRNEasia’s operations will gradually be reduced over a period of three years.
LIRNEasia is the Asian affiliate of LIRNE.NET, collaboration among leading universities in Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom and now LIRNEasia. LIRNEasia’s programs over 2004-2005 will primarily be funded by IDRC [International Development Research Center] of Canada, which supports many projects in developing countries, and has over the last two decades supported hundreds of research projects in South Asia, including the ISP, Pan Lanka Networking. LIRNEasia’s work will also be funded by infoDev, a World Bank unit that has partnered with LIRNE.NET since 2001 in the World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies. LIRNEasia is a non-profit organization incorporated under Sri Lankan law but intending to operate throughout Asia. LIRNEasia was officially launched on 17 September 2004 during the World Dialogue on Regulation’s Expert Forum in Sri Lanka.