2015 October


It’s a little odd to use a concept like vertical integration but that seems to best explain what IBM is doing. IBM calls what Watson does “cognitive computing,” heralding an age of machines that supposedly think. What the company has not figured out is how to make this into an engine of growth. The tech giant has had years of shrinking revenue, but says its investments in Watson will take time to bear fruit. It will be picking up more talent in the deal.
There is no debate that the laws governing the telecom/ICT sector in Sri Lanka are among the most convoluted. So I have some sympathy for the people who write about it. But I assume they are paid for their work and they have a duty to check their facts. The excerpt below is just one example of the erroneous analysis that is published in documents with international circulation, and then get quoted and reified as the truth about Sri Lanka: Under a constitutional amendment forced through by the Rajapaksa regime and ratified in 2011—which also removed presidential term limits—the president was able to appoint the heads and members of all commissions, subverting legislative guarantees for the independence of the TRC and other statutory institutions.[36] In April 2015, President Sirisena and his interim government were able to undo this stranglehold on democratic processes by introducing and ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which empowered independent commissions in the country and restored term limits to the presidency.
Dhiraagu tends to respond to these kinds of things strongly. Should be interesting. Ooredoo Maldives and Facebook have partnered to connect more people to the internet with the launch of Free Basics in the Maldives. Free Basics, a Facebook-led initiative, is aimed at making internet access available to the two thirds of the world’s population who have never been connected to the internet before. It is available to more than one billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
As part of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) distinguished lecture series, Sriganesh Lokanathan, Team Leader- Big Data Research at LIRNEasia will be giving a talk in Delhi (Ramalingaswami Conference Hall, International Development Research Centre, 208 Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110003) on Monday, 2nd November 2015. Sriganesh will be speaking on the topic of “Leveraging mobile network big data for developmental policy: opportunities & challenges.” Anyone who wishes to attend should RSVP to Pratibha Shukla – email pshukla@idrc.ca or call +91-11-2461 9411 (extn: 7406) Program: 11.00 am        Welcome and introductions: Dr.
The problem of sabotage of undersea cables was brought to the attention of UN ESCAP and the senior government officials who attended the ICT and DRR Committee meeting by LIRNEasia as far back as November 2010 (see slide 20). Now it’s headline news. Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict. The issue goes beyond old worries during the Cold War that the Russians would tap into the cables — a task American intelligence agencies also mastered decades ago. The alarm today is deeper: The ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.
I spent two challenging days at the first face-to-face meeting of the Privacy Advisory Group of UN Global Pulse in Den Haag. BIt was challenging because it was scheduled adjacent to a privacy commissioners’ conference and because the location was in Europe where privacy protection has been elevated to quasi-religious status. We as researchers are trying to solve problems that affect millions of people in developing countries such as traffic, unresponsive and poorly planned cities, the spread of diseases and so on. To us privacy and other harms matter, but in the foreground of our thinking we always place the social problems we are trying to solve. We attack the privacy problems because they get in the way of the larger purpose.
At the 2015 Stockholm Internet Forum that just completed, I moderated one of the best attended unconference sessions titled “Zero rating violates net neutrality. So what?“. The discussion I moderated was heated, with a spectrum of opinions being expressed.  Some said that zero rated content simply creates a ghetto-ized version of the Internet for the poor and therefore should not be allowed.
The raging debate on Zero Rated content is, for the most part, taking place in a vacuum of evidence. A successful campaign by activists  ensured that many of the 1.2 million responses sent to TRAI’s proposed net neutrality regulations in April 2015 called for banning internet.org (Facebook’s Zero Rated offering, now called Free Basics).  The fear that the poor who use the free version of the internet offered by Facebook will not use anything else but Facebook has been one of the harms many advocates put forth.
It was tough going up against Helani Galpaya’s Zero Rating session, but the Myanmar session attracted 17 persons (I took some photos, but later realized that it is against SIF policy to take or publish audience photos without permission). I presented the “all fronts” approach of the ongoing LIRNEasia-MIDO Inclusive Information Society project as a framework for discussion and presented a subset of the Myanmar 2015 teleuse survey. After the contextual information, Htaike Htaike Aung, Yatanar Htun along with colleague Ei Myat Noe Khin from Phandeeyar presented the work they were engaged in, including app development, improving digital literacy and so on. Given conference’s thematic emphasis on gender, I showed that there was no gender disparity in terms of use, while there was a significant difference between male and female subscribers.
When these misguided taxes were proposed back in January in the interim budget, I protested. An example is here. They could not get the bills passed in the previous Parliament. It was the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce that labeled them as entity-based. But now they are through.
It is quite intriguing how often moderators and many panelists default to a position that advocates government action and subsidies at the sessions I have heard so far. The evidence is clear on what worked and what did not with regard to first generation connectivity. Government supply failed. Government subsidies were not disbursed for the most part. The Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank was critical of the universal service initiatives supported and funded by the World Bank over 10 years.
Billions are yet to be connected to the Internet. Lessons can be drawn from connecting billions to voice telephony. Experience with industry-specific taxes and subsidies has yielded understanding of how they shape access. Voice telephony required no new skills. Today digital literacy is needed.
In partnership with Ford Foundation, LIRNEasia is working on a project on ‘Facilitating and enriching policy discourse on improving broadband access by the poor‘. This work is expected to result in greater awareness of practices and innovations in the region on increasing broadband penetration. As part of this project, a research  was undertaken by Nalini Srinivasan and P Vigneswara Ilavarasan on National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) in India. This research was published in Economic and Political weekly last week. The abstract of the published paper is as follows: The National Optical Fibre Network is being implemented largely by public sector organisations in the country.
No one yet knows the actual composition of the joint venture that will get the fourth license. But the results are already being felt. Starting this month, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the state-owned operator whose monopolistic rights ended last year, cut its Internet charges from 7 kyat (Bt0.21) per megabyte to 6 kyat. The short message fee was also reduced to 10 kyat, the lowest in the industry.
The first part of the Quartz article is the usual complaint about Whatsapp getting a free ride. While they may be eating into the messaging and voice revenues of mobile networks, OTTs like Whatsapp aren’t completely bad for business. They can help fuel data consumption—a growing revenue stream for network operators if exploited well. South Africa’s third largest network, with 19.6 million subscribers by the end of 2014, saw an opportunity a year ago by zero-rating Whatsapp on its network for close to a year.
One of the unconference sessions proposed by LIRNEasia has been chosen. Time and place will be announced here. Zero Rating violates Net Neutrality – so what? Zero Rated content doesn’t count towards his/her data cap. Users can consume this content for free/very cheap, while paying “regular” data fees for others.