2014 June


I’ve written about the e gov rankings before but in those instances, 2012 and 2010, the direction that Sri Lanka was taking was negative. But this year, miracles have been achieved. Sri Lanka has advanced 41 places in the biannual survey, erasing all the reverses I wrote about. Sri Lanka ranks first in Southern Asia, with the Maldives ranking in second position. The Sri Lankan government has made a substantial effort to develop its online portal which now ranks 74th in the world.
It is curious that the ICT4D people still have an affection for wireline, when even in the place where wireline telephony was invented, it has become an endangered technology, kept alive through lobbying and regulation. Sort of like making it mandatory to have at least one petrol/gas station that does not require drivers to pump their own fuel. Asked how much she pays for the landline, Ms. Horn found her latest bill and let out a loud “Ahhh!” She said she was sorry to be reminded that it costs her more than $80 a month.
Narendra Modi has never been a fan of India’s almighty Planning Commission. It functions like the Soviet-styled command and control body since the country’s independence in 1947. Gujarat’s former Chief Minister was fed up with the Commission’s “high-handedness and hobbling states with one-size-fits-all policies.” Arun Shourie, an influential BJP member, calls the Planning Commission a “parking lot” for political cronies and unwanted bureaucrats. And it’s show time for Mr.
It has always been the case that the demand for mobile telephony has been greater than envisaged in airconditioned rooms. But in Myanmar, the guys in the AC rooms seem to be thinking it’s going to be massive. Only a tiny number of people in Myanmar have mobile phones. Even fewer have access to the Internet. But that hasn’t stopped word of BarCamp from quickly spreading.
Six years ago eyebrows were raised when Google announced the rollout of a transpacific undersea cable named “Unity”. Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, KDDI Corp., Pacnet and SingTel were members of Unity consortium. It was activated on April 1, 2010. Google wanted to bypass the cumbersome transcontinental supply chain of broadband, as Capacity Magazine highlights: Google’s mould-breaking intervention was motivated by what, as a customer, it saw as the unnecessary complexity and inflexibility of the traditional consortium model.
I was of the view that all the innovations in regulation were occurring in the developing world (or by scholars working on developing country regulation). I was wrong. It appears that very interesting work is going on at Harvard, possibly in response to the US crisis in regulation: “Weak capture” (defined as special-interest influence compromising “the capacity of regulation to enhance the public interest, but the public interest is still being served by regulation”) may be nearly ubiquitous. But where some net social benefit remains, so does the case for regulation—perhaps modified, but not abandoned. Resorting to analogy again, Carpenter and Moss suggest consulting the history of medicine: Just as physicians once believed that the only effective way to treat infection was to cut it out surgically, it is commonplace today to believe that capture can only be treated by “amputating” the offending regulation.
Pakistan observes its independence day on 14th of August. On 13th of August in 2012, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MoITT) issued a directive to establish “International Clearing House” or ICH. It allowed the international long distance carriers’ cartel to fix call termination rates at their whim. As a result, the hardworking Pakistani migrant workers were punished with excessive charges while calling home. This is how the robber barons of ICH were rewarded with illicit windfall at the eve of Pakistan’s 65th birth day.
The IDRC Asia Office was kind enough to permit publication of a part of a concept paper I wrote for them. Here is an excerpt: At present, the principal methods for understanding users or demand are quantitative research (representative-sample surveys) and qualitative research. The former is used primarily for understanding “what” questions and the latter for “why” questions. Quantitative research is very costly. Its limitations include problems of recall and different forms of bias.
Governments behave like sheep when it comes to bad governance. And Mexico has decided to blindly follow the bad examples from both sides of Atlantic. In its raw form the bill extended government surveillance powers, while the police have new powers to seize and access user data without a court order. Police will also be able to track users in real time, using location information and, if the need arises, they will be authorised to actually shut down both mobile and internet networks off their own bat should they consider it in the interests of public safety. In addition, the ruling Peña Nieto Government has taken the lead from the US FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, who in public statements has defended so-called double-sided business models as probably inevitable (the good old double-sided model is one practised by the cable industry, of course, one of the industries Wheeler used to lobby for).
I saw first hand the futility of the Mullahs’ efforts to prevent Internet access by Iranian youth when I was in Tehran at the height of the Arab Spring. But what is new is that it’s the Minister of Culture who is highlighting the hypocrisy and futility. According to “The Iran Primer,” a website and publication of the United States Institute of Peace, “Iran is one of the most tech-savvy societies in the developing world, with an estimated 28 million Internet users, led by youth,” the site says. “Iran boasts between 60,000 and 110,000 active blogs, one of the highest numbers in the Middle East, led by youth.” The Iranian authorities admit, reluctantly, that it is almost impossible to rein in Iranians who are eager to know about the outside world and know how to use alternative means to gain access to the web.
In all network industries,the core problem is the peak. Peak is what drives investment and costs. But in Sri Lanka, even the valley is becoming a problem. The laws of physics require every electron that is produced and distributed over the grid to be also consumed. We lack adequate demand in the middle of the night.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has the history of not reading the writing on the wall. As the Isis militants advance leaving the trail of massacre, Maliki has bravely picked the mother of all soft targets – the Internet. Doug Madory of Renesys has graphically narrated how the Iraqi government refers “network maintenance” to Internet shutdown. Modern Iraqis, both Shiite and Sunnis, have, however, switched over to mesh network and communicate through an application named FireChat. FireChat was originally developed as a way for people to communicate in areas with poor mobile phone reception, such as underground trains.
Carson Wolfer, head of business development, partnerships and CSR at Ooredoo Myanmar, has described how they are progressing at CommunicAsia. The lack of roads, electricity and fibre is well-documented, but even the mundane aspects of setting up a company, such as setting up bank accounts and trying to pay employees are more difficult in Myanmar, Wolfer said. “It is still early days for the government,” he said. Ooredoo plans to launch its HSPA+ network in the cities of Mandalay, Naypyitaw and Yangon in the third quarter. The terms of its licence dictate that its network must cover 97% of the population within five years.
The 2014 LIRNEasia Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture focused on all aspects of the early warning ‘chain’ and what advances have been made in the ten years since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. On the whole the message that was conveyed was very positive. Tremendous progress has been made both in the science of understanding when a tsunami has been generated and in the deployment of instruments throughout the world’s oceans, including the Indian Ocean. The purpose of all this effort and investment is getting people out of harm’s way. That means that warnings, including evacuation orders, have to be effectively communicated to all those in harm’s way; that evacuation must be orderly; and most importantly, that the evacuees take the appropriate action willingly and with knowledge.
A lecture on disaster risk reduction was organized on Thursday 19th June at the Sri Lanka Foundation to consolidate knowledge on the subject in Sri Lanka and share it with other countries, private sector organizations and the general public. The keynote speaker at the event was Dr Stuart Weinstein, Deputy Director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre USA who spoke of the sparse seismic networks and the inadequacies in the tsunami warning system a decade ago. He went on to illustrate the advancements in tsunami warning with the number of warning systems increasing from one to four. Furthermore, the speed at which tsunamis can be detected has improved significantly. (Presentation “Advances in Tsunami Warning Systems Since the Great Sumatra Earthquake of 2004“)  Mr.
Nine and a half years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, I was asked to speak on the role of ICTs in disaster management at the PTC conference in Honolulu. The title says it all: Why it won’t be so bad next time. It was an emotional time and I half-wondered whether I was making claims that were over-ambitious, especially for organizations that were outside government. Today’s LIRNEasia Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture and Discussion at 3:30 PM at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute will provide the answer. It will not be perfect; but it will never be as bad as it was in 2004.