2009


Finally the TRC has woken up and started paying attention to broadband QoSE. Unfortunately, like many people and animals who are prodded awake from deep sleep, it is grumpy. It is talking about guilt and “taking action” rather than sitting down with the operators and finding a solution. “The Telecom Regulatory Commission is conducting its own investigations on mobile broadband speeds advertized by operators,” Priyantha Kariyapperuma, director general of the TRC said. “If any mobile operator is found guilty of providing slower speeds than advertized, the TRC will take action against them.
Observed few things fresh on my day at the Abhayagiri monastery complex. One was a rock inscription in ancient devanagari. It was not about a donation made by a king or a minister, as usual, or even a notification of a new regulation. The Sanskrit stanza was meant for Buddhist monks. Not a rule; but more a guide.
December 25 was just another working day at OnTime Technologies at Mahavilachchiya and things were going on at full throttle when I stepped-in to this rural BPO, arguably the first such initiative in Sri Lanka. Here is the good and bad news. Good news: The wheels are still in motion. Unlike most of the ICT4D projects (especially telecenters) that survive on donors’ oxygen, now it is self sustainable and taken seriously by the employees and villagers, who initially thought it would soon end. Employee turnover is low and what they do is seen as a career, rather than a pause till a better opportunity.
The tsunami occurred within three months of LIRNEasia’s founding. We were lucky. No one in LIRNEasia was directly affected, though there were several “what ifs”. It changed our research program for sure. We did three projects directly connected to the tsunami: NEWS:SL which was a study on how Sri Lanka could establish a robust, effective national early warning system (Note to the government: it’s not too late to implement even now), when we figured there would be no first-best solution, the HazInfo project that sought to understand how communities at the last mile could prepare themselves to receive government warning and respond appropriately, and a little pilot on how communities could be given voice called Webhamuva.
The document describes the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for data collection, data processing, data reporting, and database/system administration. Data collection involves Setting up of the Biosurveillance Module (BSM) initial information (i.e. implement database) through the web application and direct Database Administration (DBA) functions Installing, configuring, and maintaining the m-HealthSurvey mobile application Health worker expected practices in submitting data Documenting and reporting problems associated with the BSM and m-HealthSurvey Data processing involves Installing, configuring, and maintaining the T-Cube Web Interface (TCWI) analytical tool Installing, , configuring, and maintaining the detection algorithms Health Officials (epidemiologist) expected practices in analyzing the health data Defining priority levels for particular diseases Documenting events of interest Documenting and reporting problems associated with TCWI and detection algorithms Data reporting involves Installing, configuring, and maintaining the Sahana Alerting and Messaging Module (MAM) Initializing the MAM contact lists, jurisdictions, geographical areas, message templates Verification and Authorization procedures for issuing health alerts
LIRNEasia’s Lead Economist Harsha de Silva had a dream. It was that information would reduce price volatility and waste in agricultural markets and that both consumers and producers would benefit from better functioning markets. Unlike Jensen who studied the effects of price information communicated through mobiles on the market for “wild” fish and Akers who studied mobiles’ effect on grain markets (a little more complicated than fish, because the decision to grow or not is now a factor and because transportation costs are not negligible), Harsha picked perhaps the hardest of markets: small-scale production of perishable vegetables and fruits. The studies are ongoing. But we now have the ongoing research being implemented as a commercial service: Sri Lanka’s top celco Dialog Telekom is offering a trading platform based on short message services (SMS) that can help farmers to sell their produce and create a forward market for agriculture produce, officials said.
The pictures that keep coming up on the right-hand side of the blog are for the most part those of the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. So we are not allowed to forget. Not that we want to. But anyway, Newsweek was the first to publish something with a quote from LIRNEasia. I was hoping we’d get a decent Disaster Act, but we’ll settle for greater awareness.
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Fitch Ratings, a global rating agency, said the South Asian and South East Asian countries are divergent in terms of regulatory risk. It says Sri Lanka has the highest risky regulatory environment while the risk is lowest in Malaysia.  Buddhika Piyasena, Director in Fitch’s TMT team, said, Sri Lanka’s high regulatory risk score reflects insufficient transparency in the regulatory process combined with the regulator’s strong connection with the political framework. The total regulatory risk score for each market is derived based on three major sub-categories: Political & Social Policy Risk. Industrial Policy Risk.
India’s Reliance Communications is planning to sell its Fibre Link Around the Globe (FLAG) submarine optical fibre network, which it bought in 2003 for US$207 million. It is the world’s largest private undersea cable system, spanning 65,000 kilometers. It is integrated with Reliance’s 190,000 kilometers of domestic optic fiber and provides a delivery platform connecting 37 business markets in India, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Latest figures show that Reliance Globalcom – that administers the Flag network – contributes 31 per cent of the company’s revenues and provides 26 per cent of operating profit.
More food for thought for discussions on whether the emphasis should be on agriculture, which is said to employ the most people, or on services, which has the most potential. Sri Lanka has generated 234,000 service sector jobs in the third quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, though 89,000 jobs were lost in industry, and 240,000 were lost in the farming sector, a government survey showed. The data does not include Sri Lanka’s Northern province, which had just emerged from a 30-year war. The agriculture sector shrank 0.9 percent in the quarter, with paddy production falling 28.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Auton Lab, Professor Artur Dubrawski (RTBP research partner), was invited to a speak at the University of Peradeniya Computer Engineering Department. Doctrine on data mining and applications were presented focusing on the work related to the Real-Time Biosurveillance Program (RTBP) to an audience of faculty and students. Faculty members from the department Statistics and  Computer Science were quite keen in the topic as they are working on  similar applications. University of Peradeniya Department of Computer Engineering  will be offering a course in statistical data mining beginning April/May 2010.
When e Sri Lanka was designed, we thought that lots of jobs would be created, some through conventional firms in the IT and IT enabled service industries, but more in entrepreneurial startups. The first hope was realized more or less, but not the latter. Since two people with direct experience, LIRNEasia international advisory board members Ashok Jhunjhunwala and KF Lai, were in town for the LIRNEasia@5 conference, I offered them as speakers to SLASSCOM. A well attended meeting that included local entrepreneurs such as Dinesh Saparamadu (hSenid) and Mifaan Careem (Respere) and a significant number of U of Moratuwa engineering students saw a fruitful exchange of views that has already led to the establishment of an entrepreneurs society at U of Moratuwa. KF Lai talked about how he had been encouraged to start his own business while a government scientist, by the Government of Singapore.
The live blogging at the LIRNEasia@5 conference has yielded MSM coverage in the Sunday Leader’s Kottu supplement. There is also a story on the live blogging itself. The conference was mainly about ICT policy research. But this meant that a myriad of subjects were discussed from various angles. There was politics, economics, business and marketing.
Lakshaman Bandaranayake of Vanguard Management, who worked with LIRNEasia closely in the post-tsunami period, was kind enough to arrange meetings for Stuart Weinstein of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center who attended the LIRNEasia@5 conference. For those who may not know, Stuart was at the controls on December 26, 2004 when the great earthquake that caused the tsunami occurred. I visited PTWC a few weeks later and met Stuart and his colleague Barry Hirshorn leading to my first piece on early warning, post-tsunami. Despite all the controversies that were swirling around, Stuart and his colleagues were incredibly forthcoming and open, even agreeing to give evidence via a video link for the useless Presidential Commission on the Tsunami. Being the practical man he is, Stuart installed some new software at the Met Department that will help them make better use of ocean level information sent by the World Meteorological Organization and has also drafted some recommendations for the Sri Lanka authorities on how to improve their processes.
Given we’ve just finished celebrating LIRNEasia’s fifth anniversary, I could not but notice a rather striking compliment in a piece published to mark the death anniversary of Professor Cyril Ponnamperuma, a great Sri Lankan who gave me my first job , post-PhD. The author, Nalaka Gunawardene, is a person we partner with on occasion and a good friend. But anyone who knows Nalaka will have no doubt that he speaks his mind without fear or favor. Looking at the 2009 December piece, I also came across an earlier post that refers to LIRNEasia in the context of innovative organizations: If we want to nurture imagination and innovation, we must first learn from the mistakes of the recent past. Obsolete institutions and ossified policies will need to be reformed.