2016 February


It’s always a pleasure to hear LIRNEasia research cited by others.  Its even more pleasing when the person mentioning it is a senior government official (in this case the Chairman of Mongolia’s National Statistics Office) and that too at a briefing for senior government officials at Mongolia’s Parliament. Without knowing that LIRNEasia too was in the room, Chairman Mendsaikhan showcased some of LIRNEasia’s ongoing big data research as examples that were relevant for Mongolia and which should be ideally replicated. The briefing was part of a series of events on Data for Development held in Ulaanbaatar on 24th and 25th Feb 2016. The events were jointly organized by the World Bank and the Cabinet Secretariat of Mongolia, who had invited me to share our experience in leveraging big data for development in Sri Lanka.
I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion to commemorate the 130th birth anniversary of a giant of Sri Lanka media, D.R. Wijewardene on the 26th of February at 4 PM at the Kadiragamar Institute, Horton Place, Colombo 7. I thought I would talk about an industry that missed the bus and is rapidly sliding to its death, the post office. And ask whether the newspaper industry can escape a similar fate.
In honor of Mobile World Congress, which may hit 100,000 this year if the transport strike does not crash the whole thing, everyone is running stories on 5G. Why not us? The work is being done at the University of Surrey, where a leafy campus is dotted with rundown Brutalist-style buildings. Here, researchers and some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Samsung and Fujitsu, are collaborating to offer mobile Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than anything now available. Their work on so-called fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology is set to be completed in early 2018 and would, for example, let students download entire movies to smartphones or tablets in less than five seconds, compared with as much as eight minutes with current fourth-generation, or 4G, technology.
The past weekend, I was quoted, not altogether coherently, in a piece on Google’s Loon pilot in Sri Lanka. LIRNEasia Founding Chair and Founder Director of ICTA, Rohan Samarajiva made a few comments about the Google Loon project. He said, “I am no fan of outmoded notions of national sovereignty. A fragmented Internet where local data storage is mandatory is not the kind of Internet I prefer”. The Google Loon project is expected to offer easily-available Wi-Fi across the country and connected for instance through ISPs like Dialog or Mobitel with some part being free and the rest charged.
For bill payments over electronic means to work, it is necessary for the payee to have an electronic system. Some parachute advisers identified mobile payments as a low hanging fruit in the early days, even before the telecom reforms had started. But it took years to pluck this fruit because work had to be done on the pre-conditions. Not only was it necessary to get phones into the hands of the consumers, it was necessary to modernize the billing systems of the payee organizations. ConnectNPay, a joint venture between Myanmar’s MCC Group and Singapore’s Leo Tech, has since May provided an e-link between service providers, such as utility companies, and payment partners, such as banks.
I was invited to speak on “Political Changes in Asia: Are We Better or Worse Off?” at the Asia Liberty Forum in Kuala Lumpur. Since Asia is a pretty big place and people understand principles better when presented in terms of concrete examples, I decided to focus, first on Sri Lanka, and then on trade policy debates. The presentation is here. The key point I wanted to get across was that informed citizens and policy intellectuals have a responsibility to engage in policy reform; it is not enough to sit back and expect the political leadership to drive the reforms alone.
When I was presenting some of the findings from our Myanmar survey, someone from the audience raised a question about how much poor people were spending on smartphones. The implication was that it was a luxury. Here are some insights and stories pulled together by the World Bank. If you look inside the bag of any refugee on a life-threatening boat trip to Europe, you see a few possessions that vary from one refugee to another. However, there is one thing they all carry with them: a smartphone.
Our survey caught these trends last year. But the stories are good too. “The Myanmar market has K30,000 smartphones on offer, but people want using phones to be easy,” he said. “The cheaper phones don’t have good touch-screens and can’t store a lot of data compared with K200,000 handsets.” “Now mobile phone users are going online, using apps,” he said.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
BSNL has been favored child, being fed enormous subsidies and fees by different governments in power in India. But it appears the hunger is insatiable. BSNL and MTNL have not been compensated by the government for the spectrum they surrendered three years ago. The Forum has also demanded that a payment of Rs.1,250 crore be made to BSNL, a sum already sanctioned in lieu of the discontinued subsidies and the Access Deficit Charge (or ADC, envisaged as a cross subsidy by private mobile operators for use of landline services run by BSNL), which was discontinued in 2008 on a recommendation by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Daniel Solove’s work forms the basis of our recent analyses of big data privacy. It is impressive that he pulls together a comprehensive analysis of the implications of the passing of Justice Scalia for the third-party doctrine within a day. Justice Scalia’s opinion in Jones actually provides very little protection against government location tracking. Only the physical affixing of a GPS device to a car violates the 4th Amendment according to his view. But under the third party doctrine, the government can readily obtain GPS data from third parties that provide GPS services without a physical trespass to the car.
More evidence of Myanmar leap-frogging, thanks to entering the game at a later time. The Norwegian telecoms operator’s fourth-quarter results show a net subscriber growth of 1.9 million over the past three months. This equates to a SIM market share of around 37 percent, the company said. International competitor Ooredoo has yet to announce its Q4 results, but counted 4.
We only have the work of our MIDO colleagues in the realm of dealing with hate speech. Everyone knows it’s bad, but one man’s hate speech could be another’s free expression. But here is an approach, untested as yet. I am sure Phyu Phyu Thi will be interested in any responses. Counter speech was the main topic when Ms.
This may be realistic, but somehow disappointing. Google India boss Rajan Anandan thinks 50 percent of Internet use in the future will not be interactive. I wonder what the people who campaigned against Free Basics and access to the “full” Internet think of this. While some people make the case that cost of data in India is among the lowest in the world, Anandan pointed out that you had to look at it in terms of the overall income. In the US, the cost of data is 0.
The International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the United Nations in 2006 according to the universal declaration of Human Rights and international conventions on human rights. Sri Lanka has signed the convention in 2007 and the proposal made by S.B. Dissanayake, Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare, to ratify the convention for the benefit of Sri Lankan disabled persons, was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. Link to Cabinet decision.
Today, Sujata Gamage made the main presentation at the memorial event in honor of Dr Sunil Gunaratne. Her presentation was based on more than 12 months of engagement with the ongoing effort to reform Sri Lanka’s electoral system. One of the key recommendations is for the development of an interface where political parties and interested parties could see how they would be affected by the various reform options. I was thinking we missed the opportunity of the Code 4 Good organized by Internews a few months back. But perhaps, it will still get done.