2017 August


I understand universal service strategy formulation is moving forward in Myanmar these days. I looked back to see what we said four years ago. Can still live with it (though I would add some recommendations based on subsequent thinking). 3. Focus one-off subsidies solely on capital expenditures, to improve targeting and reduce leakages and avoid over-burdening the under-resourced government agencies, namely a.
I was amused to hear a senior scholar from Australia questioning a claim in a CPRsouth paper that Facebook was a source of news. In Myanmar, of all places. In his defense, I guess he was not aware of the LIRNEasia demand-side results on how people in Myanmar actually get their news. I’ve been using CPA survey data in my writing and speaking in Sri Lanka to show that the trend is for young people to get their news on Facebook. But is it different in developed countries?
Supply-side data are relatively easy to come by in the ICT space. But just because they are there, they need not be taken as the truth. We need to apply our critical facilities to the data that we use from whatever source. The “smell test” is an important tool for a good researcher. This was the message I communicated to a group of young scholars at CPRsouth 2017 in Yangon.
For the CPRsouth Young Scholar Program, I was given a series of topics such as agriculture, big data and platforms and asked to identify policy-relevant research questions. This kind of response can never be complete. And it begs the question of how good my prediction abilities are. But here goes. The slides:
Yesterday, I presented at CPRsouth 2017 a policy brief on the disbursement efficacy of universal service funds. We presented two relatively easy to develop metrics (year-on-year disbursement rate and cumulative disbursement rate) and applied them to four countries, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The conclusion was that irrespective of country and irrespective of political and administrative leadership, the funds failed to get the money out. In India, for example, USD 10 billion had accumulated in the fund by 2016 taken out of a highly competitive sector and making no contribution to connecting the unconnected. We pointed out that any tax or levy imposed on an operator that is a regular payment is passed on to customers and serves to depress demand.
Tomorrow, we start the CPRsouth Young Scholar Program at the Inya Lake Hotel, Yangon. I was asked to begin the program with a new topic, “What is policy research? What is special about communication policy research?” That proved more interesting than I thought. The slides are below.
Social media, especially Twitter, is not optimal for nuanced discussion of policy options. In the context of a talk I gave at the 2017 Sri Lanka Economic Summit on innovation, broadly defined, someone suggested co-working spaces as the priority. My response was: Tech and innovation cannot be reduced to ICT innovation — Rohan Samarajiva (@samarajiva) July 26, 2017 For reasons unclear to me this is being interpreted as an outright rejection of co-working spaces 2/ when I raised this once on Twitter Dr. @samarajiva outright rejected saying, Tech co-working spaces is not a priority! — Sesiri Pathirane (@Sesiri) August 26, 2017 So I thought it would be good to look at what I had actually said at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit.
In the little regulatory teaching I do, I have now shifted from deriving regulatory priorities from conventional industrial organization and administrative law principles to business models now prevalent in our countries. The below quotation from Business Insider shows ignorance of business models is not a problem limited to developing countries: Buried in pages of amendments to the European Union’s latest privacy proposal, the ePrivacy Regulation, members of the European Parliament recently recommended language that would strip European publishers of the right to monetize their content through advertising, eviscerating the basic business model that has supported journalism for more than 200 years. The new directive would require publishers to grant everyone access to their digital sites, even to users who block their ads, effectively creating a shoplifting entitlement for consumers of news, social media, email services, or entertainment. The language may seem confusing to the uninitiated. “No user shall be denied access to any [online service] or functionality,” the proposed amendment says, “regardless of whether this service is remunerated or not, on grounds that he or she has not given his or her consent […] to the processing of personal information and/or the use of storage capabilities of his or her […]
We love that people read our research. But we would love it more if they try to do justice to how real people use the Internet.

Human capital

Posted by on August 12, 2017  /  0 Comments

LIRNEasia has a human capital research focus. In this context, the Economist’s succinct exposition of the ideas of Gary Becker is worth reading: Simply put, human capital refers to the abilities and qualities of people that make them productive. Knowledge is the most important of these, but other factors, from a sense of punctuality to the state of someone’s health, also matter. Investment in human capital thus mainly refers to education but it also includes other things—the inculcation of values by parents, say, or a healthy diet. Just as investing in physical capital—whether building a new factory or upgrading computers—can pay off for a company, so investments in human capital also pay off for people.
Baseline Survey results from the Agriculture and Open Data project can be viewed below:
In the course of a peer review, I wrote the following: Most people will connect to the Internet wirelessly. Some will be wireless for a few meters (WiFi), others for a few kilometers. All will use fiber for some parts of the connection, some in the form of FTTP, others in the form of backhaul capacity. In many cases, fixed 4G (wireless) is a direct substitute for wired connections. Our research shows that most people in lower-middle-income countries connect to the Internet using smartphones and tablets over mobile networks.
Research Fellow Vigneshwara Ilavarasan shared the findings of the demand side study on BharatNet in the pilot sites in an open seminar hosted by Center for Internet & Society, Delhi office. The study examined the absorptive capacity of potential and current users of BharatNet in the pilot sites and offered policy suggestions on the basis of empirical data collected through rigorous sampling methods. The talk was attended by entrepreneurs, anthropologist, programmers, research scholars and civil society activists. The attendees were surprised by the poor awareness among the potential institutional users of BharatNet and followed up with lively discussion on policy suggestions. The slide set from the presentation is here.
Myanmar’s ICT sector has been transformed over the past few years as a result of policy reforms that learned from the experience of countries in similar circumstances. Now scholars from abroad are interested in learning from Myanmar’s successes and in contributing to evidence-based solutions for the remaining challenges. In late August, around 70 scholars from 20 countries across Asia and Africa, including four former telecom regulators, will converge at Inya Lake Hotel for the 2017 Communication Policy Research south Conference. The theme of the conference is “Connecting the next billion.” In the inaugural session (1330-1500 hrs, 30 August 2017), the delegates will hear of the Myanmar experience from the Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication, U Kyaw Myo.

AI in governance

Posted by on August 7, 2017  /  2 Comments

Our colleague Nalaka Gunawardene has written a Facebook post where he asks “Robots in politics? Why not?” This provides a gateway for a substantive discussion on the role of technology in governance. First, we have to rephrase the question. I understand politics to be the art of contributing in various ways to governance.
“Panic and chaos are inherent in crises. During the critical golden 72 hours the public need ICTs to mitigate the panic but we are still ten years behind and have forgotten history” – says Mr. Naveed Haq. Progress towards resilient ICTs for emergency communication and crisis response remains poor in Asia and the Pacific. The APrIGF “Cry for Help” – “Rapid Restoration of Access to Telecommunication” (RREACT) was designed to engage the audience and a set of experts in discussing issues and strategies for empowering communities with ICT resilience in support of emergencies and crises.
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