2011 January


LIRNEasia COO, Helani Galpaya,  has joined the Editorial Board of the Information Technologies & International Development (ITID) journal. The journal was ranked number one in information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) field, according to a 2010 study by Richard Heeks. We congratulate her and wish her the best in this new position!
In light of what’s going on in North Africa and Western Asia, the liberating potential of social media is very much on the agenda these days. Here is Clayton Shirky on the subject in a debate in Foreign Affairs: It would be impossible to tell the story of Philippine President Joseph Estrada’s 2000 downfall without talking about how texting allowed Filipinos to coordinate at a speed and on a scale not available with other media. Similarly, the supporters of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero used text messaging to coordinate the 2004 ouster of the People’s Party in four days; anticommunist Moldovans used social media in 2009 to turn out 20,000 protesters in just 36 hours; the South Koreans who rallied against beef imports in 2008 took their grievances directly to the public, sharing text, photos, and video online, without needing permission from the state or help from professional media. Chinese anticorruption protesters use the instant-messaging service QQ the same way today. All these actions relied on the power of social media to synchronize the behavior of groups quickly, cheaply, and publicly, in ways that were unavailable as recently as a decade ago.
Sri Lanka celebrates the 63rd anniversary of its Independence from colonial rule on February 4th. The government radio channel SLBC has invited me to participate in a live talk show (Subharati, 0700-0800, Tuesday 1 February 2011) on the achievements that have been made in telecom since Independence and on what course corrections are needed. I plan to talk about the need to stop excessive taxation of the sector (on the part of the government) and understanding and tolerance about wireless towers (on the part of the public). Anything else? Suggestions welcome.
Findings from LIRNEasia‘s multi-country study on the use of ICTs, particularly for more-than-voice, has been cited in the Economist. LIRNEasia‘s CEO, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, was also cited. The number of users is still small: even among young people in South-East Asia (a tech-friendly lot) only 8% had used “more-than-voice” services, according to a poll by LIRNEasia. But the potential is exciting.
Last research cycle, we did work on payments through near-field communication for busfares. One barrier that was identified was the lack of standard NFC capability in handsets. Looks like the London Olympics may solve that problem, according to BBC. Moving the experience on to the mobile is something consumers want, according to Jason Rees, head of m-payments at Everything Everywhere. “Studies show that people are more likely to forget their wallets than their mobile phones.
President Obama’s state of the union speech yesterday contained a few references to ICTs, but I found the illustration more interesting than the target itself. Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.
The new Ministry of Telecom and IT has published newspaper advertisements requesting ideas on how ICT may be advanced in Sri Lanka.  LIRNEasia promptly responded, submitting a selection of policy briefs developed last year.  We encourage others to respond as well.
I lived in the US at the peak of the scare stories focused on Japan. I now live in Sri Lanka at the peak of scare stories focused on India. The following should be educative to the scare-mongers: Economic events and market trends are notoriously unpredictable. In the early 1980s, the Japanese high-technology assault on the American computer and semiconductor industry seemed scary. “What are our kids supposed to do?
When we do not push stories, but yet our research gets picked up by the media, that’s real success. Tahani Iqbal’s work on mobile number portability was completed in 2009, but was yesterday cited in a story on the launch of MNP in India. A study paper by LIRNEasia, a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank based in Sri Lanka, says that ARPUs in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and even Sri Lanka are at an all-time low, especially amongst prepaid users, ranging between just $ 2-5. “There is very little room then for MNP to drive price competition and push tariffs that are already at rock-bottom,” said the paper, authored by Tahani Iqbal. Iqbal says that MNP implementation is a costly venture, with high recurring costs due to the technology involved.
I just got back from observing extended focus groups on the knowledge and information gaps faced by small-scale rubber growers in the Galle and Monaragala districts of Sri Lanka. The locations were quite remote, if one checks the map of Badalkumbura (we were several km further to the interior). The remoteness is exemplified by the fact that it took me six hours of driving to get back to Colombo. It is too early to talk about the results of the focus group research, which will be released in due time. What struck me was how Sri Lanka had changed in terms of telecom.

Good luck to Somalia

Posted by on January 18, 2011  /  2 Comments

Regulation doesn’t exist in Somalia. Yet its air wave is overcrowded with 11 mobile networks. And there is no interconnection. Now the Somali government has planned regulate its ultra-free mobile phone market. Moreover, it is ambitious of taxing the operators “to boost growth and investment,” Information, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Abdulkareem Jama told Bloomberg News.

The long game of freedom

Posted by on January 15, 2011  /  0 Comments

We are part of an ongoing conversation with Amartya Sen, Randy Spence and others on the freedom-enhancing possibilities of ICTs in general (including the question of whether the conventional Internet is better than the mobile Internet in this respect). Looks like it is a bigger conversation. Last week Morazov’s book was reviewed, this week Clayton Shirky enters the fray. Second, his essay distinguishes between short-term goals and long-term objectives. Most debates over cyberspace versus sovereignty get bogged down by looking for immediate effects.
Sri Lanka, especially the eastern seaboard, is in the midst of a massive flood disaster, said to be on the scale of the tsunami in terms of people affected (1 in 20 citizens according to government data) and perhaps the worst since 1957. Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest community-based organization and a long-term partner, was one of the first to respond based on its strong organizational reach in the worst-affected East. LIRNEasia staff contributions, matched 50% by the organization, amounting to LKR 174,750 will be used for the medical assistance that is being provided to the flood-affected. This is a drop in the bucket, but we are confident it will be used well to help those in distress. A note to friends and colleagues: The floods are far away from Colombo where LIRNEasia staff live.
A subsidiary of the incumbent telco has launched WiMAX 16e service in Sri Lanka. The launch has come after a long preparation period, but if the price and quality parameters are right, the chances of success are high since broadband is about to take off. Sky Network CEO, Mahinda Herath said that WiMAX 16e broadband service offers a superior broadband experience for households, the corporate sector and SME. He said the offering will soon incorporate other value added features such as usage and quality of service based charging models and web-based payment options. “Our vision is to give each and every person in Sri Lanka access to high-speed broadband connectivity and digital content anywhere in the island at any time,” Herath said yesterday while addressing an audience at the launch of the new product.
The military junta that runs (and ruins) the poverty-striken African country of Niger has hatched the brilliant idea of raising some special telecoms taxes. Niger, says Cellular News, is one of the world’s poorest countries and currently has a phone penetration of just 23 per cent. So a few extra taxes on the providers would presumably be just the thing to speed up more personal infrastructure development like palatial houses, SUVs even personal jets! You never know. Just remember – rulers know the best.
Mitchell Lazarus practices law in Washington D.C. He also holds two degrees in electrical engineering and a doctorate in experimental psychology. His article – Radio’s Regulatory Roadblocks – is an outstanding piece. He also wrote The Great Radio Spectrum Famine thereafter.
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