LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Connecting the next billion: Progress and challenges in Myanmar and emerging countries

below is the long version of the pitch we made to the Stockholm Internet Forum. Hopefully, it will gain enough votes to be included.

Billions are yet to be connected to the Internet. Some lessons can be drawn from the case of the previous success story of connecting billions to voice telephony. For example, from experience with industry-specific taxes and universal service funds we have a much better understanding of how taxes and subsidies are likely to affect access to and affordability of Internet. But some of the challenges are novel. Users already had the skills to use voice telephony. Policy cannot ignore the need for digital literacy among those who are using the Internet for the first time.

LIRNEasia and Research ICT Africa (RIA) have been part of the story of connecting billions in developing Asia and Africa. They are also taking on the challenges of shaping government policies affecting the billions connecting to the Internet. LIRNEasia has studied the government programs to promote infrastructure in Australia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia and used those insights to shape policy changes in India and elsewhere and has also been engaged in focusing attention on the need for affordable and reliable backhaul facilities across Asia with the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) for the past five years. RIA has been working to bring down prices across Sub Saharan Africa using benchmarking and targeted policy interventions. Since 2013 LIRNEasia has been engaged together with MIDO (Myanmar ICT for Development Organization) in the exciting drama of ICT sector reforms in one of the last large green-field markets in the world, Myanmar.

RIA’s multi-country ICT use surveys have formed the foundation of many policy interventions. LIRNEasia’s policy and regulatory interventions in the voice phase were informed, among other things, by quantitative and qualitative research known as Teleuse@BOP studies. In Myanmar, LIRNEasia and MIDO conducted the first ICT use sample survey across the country with over 8,000 respondents. Qualitative research with emphasis on micro-entrepreneurs and women have also been conducted. With over 50 percent of the population connected within a year of competitive rollout, over 50 percent of subscribers of one operator using data on a daily basis and over 60 percent of all mobile users already using smartphones, a new model of combined voice and data adoption appears to be emerging in Myanmar.

The session will showcase the lessons from the Myanmar case where progress is sought on all fronts of the Internet eco system, but will pull together lessons from the other related research across Asia and Africa. It should be of value to all interested in connecting the next billions.
The panelists will include:
Professor Rohan Samarajiva, Chair of LIRNEasia, former regulator, a designer of ICT access programs. He directed the comparative studies of broadband initiatives
Professor Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of RIA and former regulator who directed the surveys and crafted policies in multiple countries.
Helani Galpaya, CEO of LIRNEasia. She led the Myanmar teleuse studies and previous teleuse@BOP studies
Htaike Htaike Aung, Acting Director of MIDO. She manages a telecenter program that delivers both access and digital literacy

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