2010 January


Twitter in the coalmine

Posted by on January 29, 2010  /  1 Comments

Twitter is developing technology it hopes will prevent the authoritarian governments being able to censor its users. Evan Williams, the chief executive and co-founder of Twitter, which has been credited with helping anti-government protesters in Iran to organise resistance, said software developers were working on “interesting hacks” to stop any blocking by foreign governments. “We are partially blocked in China and other places and we were in Iran as well,” he said. “The most productive way to fight that is not by trying to engage China and other governments whose very being is against what we are about. I am hopeful there are technological ways around these barriers.
The world’s fastest txters are South Koreans, followed by US and Argentina. What does this mean for the Philippines status as SMS Capital of the World? The inaugural Mobile World Cup, hosted by the South Korean cellphone maker LG Electronics, brought together two-person teams from 13 countries who had clinched their national titles by beating a total of six million contestants. Marching behind their national flags, they gathered in New York on Jan. 14 for what was billed as an international clash of dexterous digits.
The applications are developed, the hardware is ready. Who is not ready are the spectrum managers/regulators of Asia, who have barely started on refarming. Already some of Sri Lanka’s mobile data users are complaining that they cannot connect. The operators need to pay attention and so do spectrum managers. America’s advanced cellphone network is already beginning to be bogged down by smartphones that double as computers, navigation devices and e-book readers.
It is disappointing to see sirens still being promoted despite the demonstrated problems. And I think Kogami was present at the HazInfo dissemination event we held in Jakarta. Patra Rina Dewi, director of the Tsunami Alert Community (Kogami), a nongovernmental organisation working on disaster mitigation training for communities, said the knowledge people most need is whether an earthquake has the potential to become a tsunami. The current standard for this is an earthquake that occurs less than ten kilometres below the seafloor and is recorded as more than seven on the Richter scale. “But this kind of information should be translated into easy information for the people,” said Patra.
LIRNE.NET (through Research ICT Africa) together with University of Cape Town’s Infrastructure Management Programme, is organizing a five-day training course in telecom regulatory reform. The course is to be held from 12 – 16 April 2010, at the UCT GSB Breakwater Campus, V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. The course is designed to enhance the strategic thinking of a select group of decision-makers in telecom and related sectors in developing countries and emerging economies. The aim of the programme is to address the many challenges posed by the current stage of telecom and ICT reform to governments, regulatory agencies, operators and other stakeholders.
Bangladesh exported 50 percent less manpower in 2009. Thousands of jobless workers also returned home as their employers went broke after the Wall Street collapsed. Yet inward remittance grew by 20 percent ($10.72 billion) in 2009. How could fewer workers send the highest-ever remittance?
It is nice to know that we at LIRNEasia have been ahead of the curve on Broadband QoSE, including on understanding it as more than simply download speed. Professor Gonsalves’s paper on the subject is here. The NYT today carried a story that says many of the things we have been talking about for the past two years. Tracking the speed of Internet service is becoming more and more important as everyone asks the Internet to do more than handle e-mail messages and Web pages. A few lines of text can take its time arriving, but applications sending voice calls or streaming video become unusable if there is too much delay in delivery.
Voice and Data has brought up two issues we have been pushing since 2008: intra-SAARC call prices and roaming prices. Our good friend Anand Raj Khanal, Secretary of the NTA, has said it is simply a matter between operators. Respectfully, we disagree. Lowering roaming charges in Nepal, when done by Nepal operators, benefits the customers of another country; it does not benefit Nepalese roaming in that country. If all the SAARC regulators agree on lowering roaming charges at the same time, this asymmetry goes away.

Living without Google

Posted by on January 17, 2010  /  1 Comments

The censors among us (they do not live only in China) need to pay attention to the consequences of their actions and how it can alienate the next generation. “How am I going to live without Google?” asked Wang Yuanyuan, a 29-year-old businessman, as he left a convenience store in Beijing’s business district. China’s Communist leaders have long tried to balance their desire for a thriving Internet and the economic growth it promotes with their demands for political control. The alarm over Google among Beijing’s younger, better-educated and more Internet savvy citizens — China’s future elite — shows how wobbly that balancing act can be.
Internet censorship exists in several of the countries we work in, ranging from the Maldives to Sri Lanka. While censorship is not our focus, our readers may find this story on how Chinese Internet users tunnel through the great firewall of interest. The Great Firewall of China is hardly impregnable. Just as Mongol invaders could not be stopped by the Great Wall, Chinese citizens have found ways to circumvent the sophisticated Internet censorship systems designed to restrict them. They are using a variety of tools to evade government filters and to reach the wide-open Web that the Chinese government deems dangerous — sites like YouTube, Facebook and, if Google makes good on its threat to withdraw from China, Google.
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami showed, among other things, the power of the Internet to raise money. Now Haiti is showing the power of the mobile to raise donations for earthquake relief. Old-fashioned television telethons can stretch on for hours. But the latest charity appeal is short enough for Twitter: “Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief.” In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, many Americans are reaching for their cellphones to make a donation via text message.
What I like about the new economy is that no one is king of the hill for too long. IBM, the target of Apple’s famous 1984 ad, almost went under and reinvented itself as an open source champion for the comeback. Microsoft is no longer looking like a big bad bully. And Nokia who seemed to own the mobile space is scrambling. It is getting hammered not only in the network equipment space (where the alliance with Siemens did not do much good) but in the main game which is handsets.
We documented the research done by Jensen and Aker on the benefits of mobiles to producers and consumers. Now we have a third good piece of research, this time not of decentralized information provision, but of centralized provision in India with the e Choupals. ITC Limited, an Indian company that is one of the largest buyers of soyabeans, felt it was paying over the odds, but was unable to monitor the traders closely. Starting in October 2000 it began to introduce a network of internet kiosks, called e-choupal, in villages in Madhya Pradesh. (Choupal means “village gathering place” in Hindi.
President Barak Obama has invited dozens of the nation’s top executives to the White House seeking tips on how the federal bureaucracy can become leaner and meaner. Why? Try these examples: The U.S. Census Bureau spent $600 million on a project to make its 2010 count electronic, but the effort failed and the census will be conducted by paper this year.
Foreign Policy magazine calls it “The Unluckiest Country” and Haiti has hardly anything to defend. History of the Western Hemisphere’s second-oldest republic has been dominated by coups, dictators, and foreign interventions. Disastrous natural calamities were never in short supply either. And now it’s the earthquake. The world has answered.
LIRNEasia’s focus is infrastructure, so we don’t write much about censorship and such, except when it becomes unavoidable. There are plenty of entities that have censorship as the primary focus, but few who deal with our specialization. Yet, we are increasingly being dragged into this area, as when our book on ICT infrastructure was detained in the Sri Lanka Customs under some unstated provision, when SMS was shut down on Independence Day and so on. In the midst of the controversy about Google threatening to withdraw from China because of their approach to censorship, it was mentioned in the NYT that some Chinese twitters saw it as a withdrawal from the world by China, not as a withdrawal of Google from China: China promptly tried to censor the ensuing debate about its censorship, but many Chinese Twitter users went out of their way to praise Google. One from Guangdong declared: “It’s not Google that’s withdrawing from China, it’s China that’s withdrawing from the world.
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