2015 April


Washington Post refers to Doug Madory as, “The man who can see the Internet.” Unsurprisingly he has been monitoring Nepal’s state of Internet since earthquake struck on April 25. Outages of Nepalese data centers, ISPs and enterprises have been graphically diagnosed in Doug’s report. A recent evaluation of Internet infrastructure in South Asia commissioned by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) classified Nepal’s international connectivity as ‘weak’ and its fixed and mobile infrastructure as ‘limited’. While the loss of Internet connectivity pales in comparison to the loss of life, the ability to communicate both domestically and internationally will be crucial in coming days for the coordination of relief efforts already underway.
Late in 2013, the book Information lives of the poor that I co-authored along with Laurent Elder and colleagues from our African and Latin American partner organizations, came out. We supported MIDO in translating it into Myanmar given its significance to the mobile revolution on that country. Now IDRC has released six short videos that summarize the findings.
As many know, LIRNEasia is engaged with Nepal. We work with the Internet Society of Nepal and have long-standing good relations with the Nepal Telecom Authority. Late March we were in Nagarkot, about an hour away from Kathmandu and quite close to now devastated Bakhtapur. As a knowledge-based organization with ten plus years of experience in disaster risk reduction work, our first reaction was knowledge based. But we seldom stop there.
The Public Utility Commission of Sri Lanka was established to serve as regulator for any of the hard infrastructure industries that needed regulation as a result of reform. All this time, all it was given was electricity. Now, there is a possibility that downstream petroleum will also be brought under its authority. So they had a workshop where I was asked to speak on regulatory and consumer protection issues. Here are the slides.
Low connectivity and low regulatory capacity are characteristics of most emerging Asian countries.  Any NN regulation needs to take these realities into account.  So when we looked at the possible ways TRAI can and should act, we ended somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Read our response here.
I was just interviewed on the phone by the BBC Sinhala Service. Since many who read this blog will not be able to hear or understand this, thought I would summarize the key points: 1. The immediate priorities should be rescue and housing and care of those rendered homeless. Sahana and mobile communication can play a vital role in helping efficient coordination of these activities. 2.
A special seminar on big data was recently organized as part of the 46th UN Statistical Commission meetings, which were held at the UN from 3-6 March 2015. ITU, which was participated in the seminar, mentioned LIRNEasia’s ongoing research on leveraging mobile network big data for development. LIRNEasia’s Team Leader for big data research, Sriganesh Lokanathan, was the main author on big data in ITU’s Measuring the Information Society 2014 report, which formed the foundation for ITU’s presentation at the event.
Many people I care for live in Nepal. Less than a month ago I was teaching in Nagarkot, in the hills about an hour out of Kathmandu. I recognize some of the buildings with cracks that come on the TV screen. I receive the tweets that say #prayforNepal. I wonder, who does one pray to?
Just a few days ago, the big data team posted some thoughts on how TRAI could analyze the one million plus comments it received in response to its consultation paper on OTT services. The Business Standard has extensively quoted from that collectively authored suggestions on how technology could help productively mobilize the flood of citizen ideas enabled by technology. Last year, the corporate affairs ministry had commissioned a platform to receive responses on the hundreds of sections and sub-sections of the Companies Act. The platform, built by Corporate Professionals, allowed section-wise responses; it classified responses under different heads such as drafting errors and conceptual issues. Further, separate log-in ids were provided for different sections of stakeholders.
We’ve been tracking Facebook’s transition from the desktop to mobile for a while. In 2012 the process was just beginning. But now, with 3/4ths of its revenues coming from mobile, it looks like the transition is complete. The world’s largest social network reported on Wednesday that almost three-quarters of its advertising revenue and most of its 1.44 billion users came from cellphones and other mobile devices in the first quarter of the year.
It’s interesting that Viet Nam’s Communist Party does not prohibit social media unlike its counterpart in China: In January Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s prime minister, told senior members of the Communist Party that it was “impossible” to block social media, and that the government should make more effort to put out “correct” information through them. Vietnam’s 40m internet-users live in one of the better-connected countries in South-East Asia. Around 45% of Vietnamese are online (roughly the same proportion as in China). In the region, only Malaysia and Singapore have higher penetration rates. The use of social media has leapt—by two-fifths in the past year alone, according to one estimate.
LIRNEasia’s Team Leader for Big Data Research, Sriganesh Lokanathan, and our former Researcher Manager, Roshanthi Gunaratne recently published a paper in the March 2015 special issue on big data of the journal Communications & Strategies. Whilst the journal article titled “Mobile Network Big Data for Development:  Demystifying the Uses and Challenges” is not available for free an earlier version of the paper is available HERE.  
LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research was recently presented at the prestigious NetMob conference held at MIT from April 8-10, 2015, attended by some of the foremost academics and researchers from the world working with mobile network big data. LIRNEasia research fellows Gabriel Kreindler and Yuhei Miyauchi made a presentation on their ongoing work on quantifying urban economic activity using mobile phone data. | Presentation Slides | Abstract | Our other ongoing work on understanding land use characteristics in Colombo city (being lead by our researcher Kaushalya Madhawa) was selected for a poster presentation.  | Abstract |  
The news reports suggest that TRAI has already received nearly 1 million submissions to its recent “Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services” that has sparked a heated debate on net neutrality. In addition to drafting a response ourselves, we also turned our attention to the problem of analyzing such a large volume of responses. Significant amount of time and effort would be required to read and interpret, as well to even formulate a basic general outline of what the public and other stakeholders are trying to say. To put it mildly, TRAI is going to have its work cut out if they are to give each response due justice. Current and former researchers from our big data team, Kaushalya Madhawa, Danaja Maldeniya, and Nisansa de Silva brainstormed a technology augmented approach to the problem of analyzing the responses.
As LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow, Payal Malik has made significant contributions to Indian telecom policy and regulation over the years. She also brings to bear a unique perspective because of her experience in implementing competition law. Going beyond the emotive, she has co-authored a thoughtful op-ed that all who engage in the net neutrality debate in India should pay attention to. India’s antitrust regime empowers the Competition Commission of India to block business activities that harm consumer welfare, restrict consumer choice or deny market access. Such enforcement with a precise enforcement mandate, exclusively targeting objectionable activities, while leaving other pro-competitive conduct that benefits consumers unregulated.
The most current draft of the the Sri Lanka Freedom of Information bill that is about to be presented to Cabinet has removed Parliament and Cabinet from its purview. They were included in the definition of “public authorities” who were bound to respond to information requests by citizens in the previous draft (at that time the Law was called the Right to Information Act). This appears to miss the essence of RTI, as I point out in a guest column in the Daily Mirror today: Freedom of Information (also known as Right to Information or RTI) laws are based on Principal-Agent theory. The public (the Principal) has delegated the task of running the country to the state, comprising officials as well as political authorities (the Agents). But the public (the Principal) cannot adequately monitor the Agents because of a radical information asymmetry.