2016 June


The results of the systematic review on the impact of mobile financial services in low- and lower middle-income countries were disseminated on 17 June 2016 at the Microtel Libis in Quezon City, Philippines. Dr. Erwin Alampay, who led the systematic review team, shared the results of the study that showed significantly higher volumes of remittances being received by m-financial service users compared to non-users. The slides can be accessed here. The event was also used as a platform to discuss the status of and issues pertaining to mobile money in the Philippines at large.
I did not have to go looking for them. They came up to me and fondly spoke of what they had learned at previous CPRsouth events. In some cases the interactions had happened more than five years ago. I was gratified. The objective of CPRsouth is not to equip young people for the academic industry; it is to encourage and equip them to take research to policy.
Myanmar, having completed the “big bang,” initial reforms is in the process of establishing a regulatory agency to be known as the Myanmar Communication Commission (MCC). Due to years of enforced isolation from the world and neglect of education, Myanmar suffers from severe constraints in terms of skilled personnel. Having already achieved good results by learning from the experience with previous reforms, the government may benefit from learning from the experiences in the design of regulatory agencies and the conduct of ex-ante, sector-specific regulation. From desk research and questionnaires administered to informed respondents, this paper assembles relevant evidence from National Regulatory Agencies (NRAs) in member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Myanmar is a member. In addition, the paper identifies negative aspects of conventional solutions and suggests ways to address them.
Martin Fransman gave a good keynote on what causes innovation at today’s ITS conference. One question that arose from his discussion of Apple and a low-tech (low expenditure on R&D) company was how we could objectively measure innovation. Fransman answered by saying R&D expenditures were a bad indicator, being (a) an input measure, and (b) excluding a lot of service innovation expenditures (Apple was high here). No one would be misled into believing that Apple did not innovate. After the session I was chatting about this with Michael Latzer of U Zurich.
I am speaking on a big data panel at the 21st ITS Biennial Conference in Taipei, described below: If Big Data can open up opportunities at the same time it raises serious policy issues. Big Data raises concerns about the protection of privacy and other values and may drive a rethink of traditional approaches to data governance: a shift from trying to control the data itself to focusing on the uses of data. Prevalent data standard protection may have become higher as legal standard may be inadequate. Openness of the data and data ownership are pending issues. Besides, the rise of the “Data Barons” is triggering market concentration and data oligopolies issues: “Dark Side of market concentration and data oligopolies.
It was a challenge to teach about the health issues associated with mobile networks to over 80 members of the Yangon Regional Hluttaw (regional Parliament), including the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. I am not qualified in medicine, but I keep getting asked whether a new mobile BTS being erected in a neighborhood or a son’s or daughter’s “excessive” mobile use is likely to cause health problems. I realize the questioner, generally a member of the public who has made the effort to find my number and call me me cold, is highly worried and is also placing a great deal of trust in me. Therefore, I have made the effort to keep up with the research and respond based on the best possible evidence and with sensitivity to their fears. The slides that I used in my talk are based primarily on the writings of the brilliant Siddhartha Mukherjee, supplemented by a recent Australian study.
Over 80 sitting MPs of the Yangon Regional Hluttaw participated in a two day course on e-government organized by LIRNEasia and MIDO. The course took place on 22 and 23 June within the parliamentary premises and saw the participation of representatives from National League for Democracy (NLD), the Military and  Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Rohan Samarajiva and Helani Galpaya of LIRNEasia, Pranesh Prakash of CIS and Htaike Htaike Aung and Yatanar Htun of MIDO made presentations to the MPs over the two days. The presentations were well received and lively discussions followed. Many MPs also visited the digital security clinic for one to one consultations on how they could secure their social media accounts.
MIDO and LIRNEasia offered a one day program that addressed issues of telecom and Internet policy and regulation, along with e government and social media in Yangon to around 20 legislators from the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament. The slides used are given below: What is the significance of ICTs to legislators?: Rohan Samarajiva What to people in Myanmar do with ICTs? Results of field research: Helani Galpaya Legislation, policies, plans, strategies, regulation: Rohan Samarajiva What is independent regulation? Why is it needed?
In contrast to the usual tales of woe, increasing losses and strikes, an online publication had this optimistic story: Sri Lanka Post has done its homework. According to Shervyn Senadheera, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Posts, Postal Services & Muslim Religious Affairs, a survey conducted between 2013 and 2014 with a sample size of 1,122 participants found that only 15 – 18% of the population has the capability of getting their services online, through the internet, mobile phones and apps. The rest of the population faces immense hurdles in terms of language, computer literacy, access to hardware, and confidence with technology. Senadheera is of the opinion that whatever the technology introduced, basic problems like those mentioned above need to be addressed first. And there is truth to the statement: even a giant technological development drive will need to tackle computer literacy before the people can enjoy its benefits.
I discussed what is required for Sri Lankan firms to effectively participate in global value chains and reforms of State-Owned Enterprises at the Management Club of Colombo. The slides are here.
Osama Manzar of Digital Empowerment Foundation has written an op ed on BharatNet, still being described by the unfortunate acronym NOFN. We have been writing about it since Sam Pitroda came up with the plan in 2012-13. What is sad is that the story has not changed much since 2013-14, despite governments and ministers changing. In Palla village of Dadri, the village head informed us that NOFN cables had been laid in the area 18 months ago, but there was still no set-up box or Wi-Fi tower. This is alarming because Ballabhgarh and Dadri are within a 50-km radius from Delhi.
The government newspaper, the Ceylon Daily News, carried a well-written story on Google Loon, Rama Corp, and dangers to spectrum framework. “We first told the companies who had been with us throughout, that because they had supported us through difficult times, we would give them a base frequency of 7.5Mhz (900Mhz band). The other companies, like Suntel, Lanka Bell and Lanka Telecom were given a base of 2.5Mhz (800Mhz band).
The 8th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2016) was held from 3- 6th June 2016. The conference held at the University of Michigan, saw a variety of sessions on different topics. LIRNEasia participated in the session on ‘Debating Open Development: Sharing and Interrogating Experiences of Developing Cross-Cutting Theory in ICTD’ organized by the Strengthening Information Society Research Capacity Alliance (SIRCA). This session provided an introduction to the SIRCA III Research Programme. LIRNEasia has been selected as one of the teams to conduct research in the empirical phase of the SIRCA III Programme.
We have been kicking around the idea of giving insurance a greater role in disaster risk reduction and response since 2005. Just a few months back I raised the issue at a workshop at UN ESCAP. In an interview with a Sinhala newspaper last week, I said it was a pity we were not anchoring compensation for flood damage on insurance principles and just giving out money. But here is good news. Too often, we criticize governments for sins of omission and commission.
LIRNEasia has been at the forefront of big data analysis for development in Sri Lanka, conducting in-house analysis to generate actionable insights across a range of policy domains. On 6th May 2016, LIRNEasia and the Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka jointly convened a planning meeting on building better models for forecasting the propagation of infectious disease such as dengue in Sri Lanka. The meeting was intended to lay the foundation for a multi-disciplinary collaboration engaging health informatics specialists, epidemiologists, and data scientists to identify research priorities and opportunities. The participants included the following: Madhushi Bandara, Junior Researcher, LIRNEasia Prof Vajira Dissanayake (Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka, Biomedical Informatics Programme – Postgraduate Institute of Medicine) Dr. M.
A early paper based on LIRNEasia’s work on big data was presented at the 2014 CPRsouth conference in Maropeng, South Africa. The journal article based on that has just been published. The abstract: Rapid urban population growth is straining transportation systems. A big data–centric approach to transportation management is already a reality in many developed economies, with transportation systems being fed a large quantity of sensor data. Developing countries, by contrast, rely heavily on infrequent and expensive surveys.
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