2017 July


The warning towers erected after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami are said to be dysfunctional, according to Reuters: Thailand’s warning system includes warning towers, a network of detection buoys in the sea and public announcement systems. “Around 70 to 80 percent, or around 2,000 pieces, need to be taken care of. We set up this system since 2006 so it needs to be maintained,” Kobchai Boonyaorana, deputy director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, told Reuters, referring to various equipment. “Batteries need to be changed,” he added, “I’ve ordered that this needs to be done urgently particularly in the southern region which is a tourist region. There might be some places where the equipment is damaged but not many places.
We are inviting Proposals from potential Bidders to conduct comparative nationwide studies of ICT access and use in 2017 in India and Bangladesh. The full RFP is downloadable here. Please also see our Technical Proposal Template, Financial Proposal Template, and Sample Locations before submitting the proposals. Deadline for submissions is 10 August 2017.
We know workarounds. We’ve researched them, we’ve written about them. But this is in a class of its own: With no real money, and working in a dictatorship’s gray zone, the gamers have cobbled together a faster network with more services than anything this socialist worker’s paradise has managed to produce. I sit in mute admiration as Ian shows me clones of billion-dollar US internet entities. All of it existing in near-­isolation from the outside world, just a hundred miles from the US.
Many see the promotion of innovation simply in terms of increasing reported R&D expenditures. I disagree. That is why I like the Global Innovation Index which is a composite index that looks not only at inputs, but also at outputs and innovation efficiency. Sadly, Sri Lanka is failing according to the GII. When compared with lower-middle-income countries, Sri Lanka is not in the top ten in anything.
At LIRNEasia, we are looking at how online freelancing platforms can make life easier and better at the bottom of the pyramid. In Bengaluru, a few cases stand out. First, some urban freelancers have found means of circumventing platform fees. Second, women in semi-urban areas don’t seem to trust the internet enough to consider working online.
I recently had the opportunity to participate at the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Institute 2017 held at the University of Oxford thanks to the generous funding from the Ford Foundation. A variety of topics pertaining to Internet governance such as Internet architecture, net neutrality and multistakeholderism were discussed.  The sometimes-divergent views from those from those from different backgrounds (such as civil society, government, corporates) served as food for thought. The conversation that ensued on balancing between the freedom of expression and hate speech will serve as a useful input to LIRNEasia’s upcoming work on online behaviour in Myanmar. Here I also got the chance to present LIRNEasia’s research on free and subsidized data in Myanmar and India.
“We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up.” This is a quotation from Julian Gewirtz’s book, Unlikely Partners, that I will be using in my keynote address at the University of Peradeniya Humanities and Social Sciences Conference on 28 July 2017. It was in a conversation between Deng Xiaoping and Robert McNamara.
Governments should not be flying blind. Now the tools of big data are available to reduce their ignorance. But we will not be able to use big data effectively if the narrative is dominated by utopian hype and dystopian scare mongering. For that we need effective, fit-for-purpose public public policy and regulation for big data (including algorithms), not remnants of 1970s thinking such as informed consent and strict purpose specification. For example, the above shibboleths do not provide any remedy for the real harms of lack of security of data storage.
When Anders Henten decided to publish one of the outputs of our research project in a print-only journal as Henten, A.; Samarajiva, R.; Melody, W.H. (2002), The next step for telecom regulation: ICT convergence regulation or multisector utilities regulation?
We first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, in relation to the conflict areas in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. We started formulating the issues in terms of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions around the time of the Arab Spring. I wrote the main piece on the subject, sitting in a hotel room in Teheran in February 2011. Since those days, the practice of shutting down networks has become more common, and more sophisticated. The Global Network Initiative has put out a one-pager on the subject: “GNI urges all governments to consult our one-page guide and to weigh carefully the human rights, economic and reputational harms that can flow from the decision to disrupt public access to vital communications services and platforms,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg.
A lot of the discussion in the concluding sessions focused on implementation, as intended. Here is a participant writing about the highlights in Setopati, a digital newspaper: Similarly, senior Director at Nepal Telecommunications Authority Anand Raj Khanal said broadband could be leveraged to graduate country from the least developed status to the developing on by 2022. Arguing that NTA’s primary role is the infrastructure development in terms of expansion of broadband, Director Khanal expressed doubt whether the contracts NTA had with Nepal Telecoms and other companies would be completed on time to ensure broadband access to people. According to him, contracts were signed this April and May to ensure broadband internet access for 11 quake-hit districts. He too admitted, “We’re smart in policy formulation but weak at implementation.
Somalia has suffered internet outage, as its only submarine cable – Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy) – has been snapped by the anchor of a cargo ship recently. Few affluent users are online through the expensive satellite backups while most of the users remain off-line. Bangladesh was also exposed to similar risk until six operators plugged the country with India across the land borders in 2012. Mogadishu should rush for overland links with Kenya for the resilience of its international connectivity. Otherwise, it will remain vulnerable to frequent outages because of the careless merchant mariners.
LIRNEasia research fellow, Nuwan Waidyanatha, will be part of a panel discussion on ‘Rapidly Reconnecting the Disconnected in Disasters‘ at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum to be held in Bangkok from 26 to 29 July, 2017. The session, titled “Cry for Help!” is meant to expose participants to low-cost, easy-to-use tech and foster an environment which challenges experts through dialogue and participatory exercises. “Rapid Restoration of Access to Telecommunication” (RREACT) – AP is highly susceptible to disasters. Telecommunications, as a critical infrastructure, is vital for crisis management.
LIRNEasia carried out qualitative research on user perspectives of Internet use in India among respondents from low and middle income households. It is a part of a series of research looking at the use of free and subsidised data in the developing world. The research was carried out with financial support from Mozilla, the UK Government’s Department for International Development, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. India was an interesting case in the zero rating debate. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) passed the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Service Regulations in 2016.
The big news from the last broadband course we taught in Nepal was that only 2.6 percent of all the universal service funds collected since 1998 had been disbursed.  This information, unearthed in the course of completing an assignment, was presented to decision makers in government who came to judge the mock public hearing.  It was published in the Nepali media. Two years later, the Senior Director of the Nepal Telecom Authority who spoke about the regulatory aspects of broadband rollout did not speak in vague generalities or in the future tense.
The Nepali Reporter was the first to carry a story on the Ford Foundation supported course being conducted in Dhulikhel, July 14-17, 2017. The training organized by LIRNEasia, a Sri Lankan think-tank, Internet Society Nepal Chapter and Centre for Law and Technology, is engrossed on multifarious issues relating to internet and information as inclusion in information society, affordable broadband of adequate quality, services and applications that are of value to Nepali users, broadband infrastructures, measures to enhance and assure trust and security, ICT in disaster risk reduction and disaster response, demand size research and the research techniques as searching and managing data, and utilization of internet.