2017 February


In 1997, twenty years ago, I wrote an overview piece on what I thought would be the “horizon” issues telecom regulators should think about. It was a book chapter in a book edited by Bill Melody: Samarajiva, R, (1997). “Telecommunication regulation in the information age,” in Telecom reform: Principles, policies and regulatory practices, ed. W. H.
Jens Arnbak was a former Chairman of the Dutch telecom regulatory authority. Before and after his stint in regulation, he taught at Delft University of Technology. He taught at the early LIRNE.NET courses. I recall being with him in September 2001, when we were teaching together at the ANRT, the Moroccan Regulatory Authority.
They can lay cable under the sea, but over land seems to be difficult. Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd (BSCCL) is going to inaugurate its second undersea cable connection from Turkey to Kuakata in the country today, but its back link connectivity from the landing station to the main land is yet to be established. Parvez M Ashraf, project director of the second submarine cable landing station, said they are ready to launch the cable — SEA-ME-WE 5 — as its construction is complete. Md Monwar Hossain, managing director of BSCCL, who is now in Turkey to attend the management meeting of the consortium, will send data traffic to Bangladesh through this cable and inaugurate it, said Ashraf. However, internet users in the country will not be able to enjoy connectivity just yet, as the backhaul from Kuakata to Dhaka is not yet ready, which will take at least a few more weeks.
Sri Lanka has always been prone to natural disasters; more commonly droughts, floods and landslides. However, the 2004 Tsunami caused the most devastation we had witnessed in a very, very long time. LIRNEasia’s stance in the aftermath, apart from contributions in cash and kind for immediate relief, was a more longer term solution using our core strengths – research, getting the right people connected and facilitating initial efforts of implementation. The outcome was the design of a participatory concept of an all hazard-warning system. It was a joint effort getting the right people together – from government, to technology developers to communication network specialist who would then later go on to provide the platform required for the implementation of an early warning system.
A good friend of LIRNEasia, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, delivered a public lecture relevant to the ongoing discussions on a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. He also interacted with key actors in the process and gave interviews to the media. The event was organized by Advocata Institute, Sri Lanka’s newest think tank. LIRNEasia connections were many. Former Lead Consultant Economist, now Deputy Minister, Harsha de Silva participated in the panel discussion, which I moderated.
Much of what we work on involves information in markets. Transaction costs, information asymmetries feature large in our work. We hope to address insurance in our future work. In all these areas, Kenneth Arrow’s influence is immense. We mourn his passing.
Informed writing on highly technical subjects is not easy to do. That is one reason we encourage journalists to participate in our courses. Here is a piece on the Loon trials in Sri Lanka by one who attended the Ford Foundation supported broadband policy and regulation course in Marawila in 2015. Appears his time was well spent, as were our resources. Sri Lanka has signed the APT spectrum plan which means the government is committed to migrate our existing television stations to a digital platform.
After two decades of sporadic efforts, Sri Lanka’s Parliament unanimously passed the Right to Information Act in June 2016. LIRNEasia responded to a call for comments on the draft Bill and offered comments on various versions of the Bill through the media as the law was being shaped, many of which were accepted. Overall, it was a successful research-to-policy intervention. But in one area, we failed. That was in convincing the drafting committee to address costs of compliance to small organizations.
Kasthurirathna, D., Piraveenan, M., Bandara, M. & Maldeniya, D.
Bangladesh badly needs a second submarine cable for steady supply of international telecoms connectivity. The second cable is also critical to efficiently serve the cross-border customers. That’s the strategic significance SEA-ME-WE 5, the sequel of SEA-ME-WE 4 submarine cable, for Bangladesh. The new cable has been timely ashore but plugging it to the country’s telecoms networks remains uncertain. Multiple state-owned telecoms outfits, historically inefficient and corrupt, hinder the domestic transmission works of SEA-ME-WE 5.

The importance of scale

Posted by on February 20, 2017  /  0 Comments

One of the first things Ashok Jhunjhunwala said when we started working together was that in India scale was everything. He should know, having spun off a number of companies and suffered some failures as well. I find it difficult to get excited about stories like this, because these initiatives addressing 16,000 women in the country of 1.2 billion people are unlikely to scale. Of course, one hopes they will succeed.
Learning from the experience of others, the licensing regime in Myanmar made it possible for companies that specialized in the operation of towers to function (unlike, say, in Sri Lanka). When the main business of a company is the leasing of space for antenna, it has incentives to use the towers most efficiently and to allow as many mobile network operators to use the space as possible. It is not that concerns over aesthetics and health are absent, but it would be fair to say that Myanmar could not have made the rapid progress it has achieved without this element of intelligent policy design. Fortunately for Myanmar’s telecom infrastructure companies, the market for rooftop real estate is booming. A fourth telco is due to launch this year, and Telenor and Ooredoo are in the midst of a major urban rollout.
We have been engaged with broader connectivity issues in the region since 2010, when Abu Saeed Khan and I started working to move ICT connectivity issues up on UN ESCAP’s agenda, embedded in other forms of connectivity. Much of what we’ve done in this area recently has been on the demand for connectivity developing in the Bay of Bengal. But thanks to the Trincomalee Consultation organized by Pathfinder Foundation and Carnegie India, I look at the supply side, with focus on Trincomalee. Here are the concluding comments. When conclusions are drawn from maps and anecdotes, it seems obvious that Trincomalee is ideally positioned to serve as a maritime gateway to the Bay of Bengal region.
LIRNEasia’s research findings from the nationally representative survey on ICT use and information needs conducted in 2016 are being quoted by officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, Htaike Htaike Aung of MIDO reports.  Most recently, it has been quoted by U Myo Swe, Deputy Director General of the Post and Telecommunications Department at a consultative workshop on universal service strategy, design and implementation held today (16 February 2017) in Yangon. Key figures such as household mobile ownership (83%) and poor digital skills were mentioned by U Swe.  The increase in mobile ownership in rural areas was also highlighted. LIRNEasia’s research findings showed that mobile ownership in rural Myanmar increased from 26% to 53% between 2015 and 2016.
Leading up to the last Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, LIRNEasia and the Association for Progressive Communication collaborated on preparing participants from multiple countries for effective engagement in that multi-stakeholder event. Nalaka Gunawardene was one of the participants from Sri Lanka supported by that activity. Here are his reflections in Internet governance in Echelon. Why does Internet governance matter for Sri Lanka? Since we have enough governance challenges in the physical world, should we leave cyber governance for others to resolve?
The government of Sri Lanka has increased spending on the leading welfare scheme Samurdhi, from LKR 15 billion in 2014, to LKR 43 billion in 2016, almost a tripling. There are 1.4 million beneficiaries, classified into those can be graduated out of the scheme, those who cannot, and those in between. Apparently, another 1 million people are clamoring to be included in the scheme. In this seven-minute speech made in a Parliament recently, Dr Harsha de Silva provides a quick comparison of the three principal methods of ascertaining poverty.
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