2017 November


Nothing really new in my opinion, as the kind referral surmised. Asia is now Facebook’s biggest user base. That has given the company unprecedented political sway across the continent, where it inadvertently shapes the media consumption of hundreds of millions of people. The impacts are amplified in the region because vast swathes of relatively new internet users turn to Facebook first as their primary gateway to the rest of the web. Meanwhile, it’s become clear that the attitudes and policies the Menlo Park-based company adopted when it was primarily a U.
I have this unfortunate tendency to recognize my own writing. This is what was in an article about the tower levy in the Sunday Times, 26th of November 2017: This was another reason for the government’s action to reduce the number of towers, he said. The tower levy is unlikely to result in the quick consolidation of antennae to fewer towers because tower sharing is already happening and in most cases, mounting additional antennae on existing towers is not practically possible because of the weight they (or the underlying structures) have been designed to carry. The likely outcome is the shutting down of marginal towers, harming the quality of service in the cities and loss of service in some rural areas. This what I had written under my name in the FT this past Monday, 20th of November 2017.
The Myanmar Constitution is a highly centralizing document. For example, tourism, a subject that is given over to sub-national units to administer in many countries, is assigned solely to the union or central government. But it goes beyond that, assigning authority over hotels and lodging houses solely to the union government. Therefore, there should be no surprise that telecommunications is a union subject according to the Myanmar Constitution. In all countries, with the limited exception of the United States, telecommunications is the responsibility of the highest level of government.
The role of insurance and zoning was discussed at a video conference we organized shortly after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. I wrote up some of the insights that were shared in my Choices column shortly thereafter. It’s good to see that knowledge informing the thinking of the Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs: There was a need to introduce disincentives to prevent construction of buildings in places that are disaster prone, he said. Providing more people disaster insurance was also important, De Silva said. “We need to not only prepare for post-disaster insurance but prevent probability of people being subject to disaster.
The surprise in this story is that the offending government is the government of the United Kingdom, a country many in the world looked at when engaged in telecom reforms. Now that the slapping of arbitrary taxes and levies on telcos has become the fashion, perhaps the UK example will become the governing one again. In 2015, regulator Ofcom was asked to increase spectrum fees, which trebled the annual licence fee of many operators and resulted in the industry having to cough up £200 million a year for licences. UK operators sought a judicial review, stating Ofcom had wrongly calculated the amounts, for instance by not taking into account network running costs. The Court of Appeal upheld the challenge based on European Commission laws on infrastructure investment.
Helani was in the first panel titled "Alphabet Soup" which introduced concepts of Internet Governance and the connection between IG and media development.
LIRNEasia has been working on agriculture since 2006. Most recently, in the context of the Inclusive Information Society project that is being wrapped up, I was talking about GAP compliance with an agri-producer connected to global supply chains standing in a paddy field in Kandy on which he was growing bitter gourd for export to Europe, where among other things, he described the various authorizations he had to obtain because he was cultivating on land designated as being for rice. I recalled a conversation with Helani Galpaya several years ago upon her return from a field visit connected to our agriculture research. She said, we’re looking to solve information and knowledge problems, but the biggest barriers the farmers face is with regard to land. The 2018 Budget Speech proposes to relax the constraints that have been artificially imposed on what farmers can do with their land.
CEO Helani Galpaya was invited to speak at the Intersessional Panel of the UNCSTD. Her presentation was based on three themes at LIRNEasia.
by Keshan de Silva and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne One of the most useful datasets we have is a collection of pseudoanaonymized call data records for all of Sri Lanka, largely from the year 2013. Given that Sri Lanka has extremely high cell coverage and subscription rates (we’re actually oversubscribed – there’s more subscribers than people in the country; an artifact of people owning multiple SIMS), this dataset is ripe for conducting analysis at a big data scale. We recently used it to examine the event attendance of the annual Nallur festival that happens in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Using CDR records, we were able to analyze the increase in population of the given region during the time of the festival. A lengthy writeup describes it on Medium, explaining the importance of the festival and the logic for picking it.
Improving the quality of policy proposals in the Budget Daily FT Opinion by Rohan Samarajiva I have been immersed in discussions in various media platforms about the 2018 Sri Lanka Budget. A budget speech seeks to communicate the direction of government policy to other economic actors. While it is a coherent and forward-looking document overall, the 2018 Budget does contain some problematic proposals that will have to be walked back or quietly buried. In this op-ed published in the Financial Times, I discussed a solution: Every Budget Speech includes complex policy measures. Given the traditions associated with the Budget Speech, it is not possible to conduct public consultations on each of the measures beforehand.
Blumenstock, JE, Maldeniya, D, & Lokanathan, S
I’ve been on some kind of budget binge this past week. Part of the problem with Sri Lanka public administration is that no assessment is done of the budget proposals. Last year’s budget increased the allocation for the Ministry of Telecom and Digital Infrastructure by 479 percent. What are indicators that this was a wise and useful expenditure of the people’s money? The first thing is, it’s difficult to even find out whether the money has been spent.
Sri Lanka has not one, but two, government-owned TV channels. They tend to be used for propaganda, but there are occasions when they act like normal news channels, serving the public interest in understanding what is going on. Last week, for example, I was happy to be on a talk show in the midst of a breakdown of fuel supplies debating the issues with a leader of a trade union combine that is trying its hardest to roll back even the current nominal liberalization and restore some kind of retrograde state monopoly. This week, I was invited to come on the show again to discuss the budget. I am generally supportive of the thrust of the 2018 budget proposals, which may be why they invited me.
It was in 1998, almost 20 years ago, that I was invited to a meeting at the Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka in my capacity as Director General of Telecommunications. They had identified a high point in the city of Colombo to locate ALL the cellular antenna towers and they wanted me to concur with their plans. I explained that the very concept of cells required multiple towers in multiple locations. Twenty years later, the same ignorance is being displayed again. A Minister of the government is making speeches in Parliament about how all of Sri Lanka can be served by nine towers.
As I was thinking about how to explain the silliness of charging LKR 200,000 (USD 1,300) per antenna tower per month as proposed by Sri Lanka’s 2018 Budget, I came across this piece on how African governments were shooting themselves in the foot by following the Willie Sutton doctrine: Unfortunately, instead of seizing such opportunities, many African governments are energetically discouraging the spread of technology. Many ban genetically modified crops, refusing even to accept them as food aid when their people are starving. Almost all invest far too little in science and research, and have byzantine visa systems that discourage skilled immigration. And they tax mobile phone and internet companies at punitive rates. In 2015 mobile-phone operators in 12 African countries paid taxes and other fees equivalent to 35% of their turnover, says the GSMA, an industry lobby.
We had the good fortune to develop a proposal on training app developers before smartphone started dominating the markets we care about. We did not get the money; they gave it to some Pakistani government outfit that could not even start the work, but that aside, we benefited from the exercise. It forced us to stretch our thinking. In the same way, this article which is about Alexa and its variants is useful in stretching our thinking beyond the smartphone. Modern smartphone platforms have become a minefield of distractions, dominated by social media apps whose primary goal is to occupy ever more time.
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