Chanuka Wattegama


Attempts to regulate online content; block websites; attacks on journalists and repeated statements from government officials threatening those who provide alternative views do not appear good for the future of online freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, says the latest Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) report released today. This analysed the Internet freedom in Sri Lanka compared to other societies. Though it claims only little signs of any improvements to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka despite the end of war, the report is not as pessimistic as anybody anticipates it to be. Internet users, it still says need to be weary of attempts to ban online pornography and more general bans on ‘indecent advertising’ as concerns about ‘decency’ could be the start of a slippery slope towards a wider censorship program. Internet Filters that are established to remove pornography today can be used to remove a political dissent tomorrow.
ICT for Disaster Risk Reduction (ICTD Case Study) Published by: United Nations Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (UN-APCICT/ESCAP) Demonstrating the true impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in any other field has never been easy. Robert Solow’s cynical remark has certainly outlived its time. If not for ATMs, credit cards, online check-ins and unprecedented drop of snail mail we would still have been arguing whether computer age is seen in productivity statistics. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is one area where ICT’s role is more evident. ICTs are important tools for lessening the risks brought on by disasters through early warning, coordinating and tracking relief activities and resources, recording and disseminating knowledge and experiences, and raising awareness, says a joint preface by the publishers, Xuan Zengpei, Director, IDD-ESCAP and Hyeun-Suk Rhee, Director, UN-APCICT/ESCAP.
Ban Ki Moon will be surprised to learn how far Sri Lankan government goes to ensure the human rights of its people. It may not necessarily make him an activist, but the chief of Telecommunication Regulatory Commission makes it clear why Facebook should not be banned: Access to it is a human right. Mark, did you hear that? There is another reason too. As Anusha Pelpita says to Daily Mirror online blocking sites will reduce internet speed.
LIRNEasia’s preliminary round of mobile broadband quality testing in selected locations in Western Province unveils both hopes and issues. The good news is that the quality of both key pre-paid mobile broadband services is satisfactory, in majority of locations. However, unusual quality drops in several places indicates that this performance is not always a certainty. In general, a mobile broadband user in Western Province can expect a reasonable quality unless a rare issue like the distance from a tower or a higher number of simultaneous users hinders it. LIRNEasia tested the broadband quality of the popular pre-paid High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) broadband connections of the two key providers.
There is an imminent need to revisit the institutional arrangements for disaster mitigation, response and warning systems because serious gaps still exist between practices and the policies in effect, as indicated by the recent folds and tsunami alerts, said Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, delivering LIRNEasia’s Disaster Risk Reduction Public Lecture on July 7, 2010 at the Foundation Institute auditorium. This was the inaugural public lecture of LIRNEasia’s series of disaster risk reduction events. Illustrating Sarvodaya’s contribution to the disaster recovery process in response to a series of natural disasters including the cyclone in 1978, the Kantalai tank bund breach in 1986 and the tsunami in 2004, Dr. Ariyaratne explained the lessons learnt and how that changed the institutional attitude.
CHAKULA is a newsletter produced by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Named after the Swahili word for ‘food’, it aims to mobilise African civil society around ICT policy for sustainable development and social justice issues. The latest issue features an e-interview with LIRNEasia’s CEO Rohan Samarajiva, but it is not the only reason why we thought of highlighting the issue. The content is interesting and very readable. We publish two e-interviews from July 2010 issue here fully, as they are not available on public domain.
Lankadeepa online today reported this strange incident of Sri Lanka’s Police arresting an individual in Medavachchiya for playing an SMS prank on his wife.  He allegedly texted his wife, who was on a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura about a ‘terrorist attack’ at the sacred city. The report further says Police has already questioned six and looks for another four.
Finland has become the first country in the world to make broadband a legal right for every citizen. From 1 July every Finn will have the right to access to a 1Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection. Finland has vowed to connect everyone to a 100Mbps connection by 2015. In the UK the government has promised a minimum connection of at least 2Mbps to all homes by 2012 but has stopped short of enshrining this as a right in law. The Finnish deal means that from 1 July all telecommunicatons companies will be obliged to provide all residents with broadband lines that can run at a minimum 1Mbps speed.
The Private Bus Operators Association of Sri Lanka has proposed to introduce a service for sale and purchase of bus tickets via mobile phones and/or customized electronic cards. These e-reload passes are readable by the existing GPRS-enabled ticket machines. The current plan is that passes will be in the form of physical re-load cards or mobile phone enabled mechanisms. If mobile phone -enabled, then a whole new window of opportunity emerges for transactions; this could become the most widely used, full mobile 2.0 (transaction-capable) application.
  Gone are days that postal services were an integral part of Sri Lankan culture. According to a recent Postal Department survey, only 11% uses snail mail now, reports Divaina. The drop from over 90% in pre-1978 days is attributed to the widespread use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), including mobile phones, faxes and e-mail. ICTs supplementing age-old postal services too is common. ‘Fax Money Orders’ have replaced the traditional ones.
Ranmalee took this photograph of Supun Sudaraka, testing mobile broadband connections on the move, using Mobile AT-Tester, the family of test tools developed by LIRNEasia. Broadband quality testing isn’t a desk job anymore. We simulate real conditions. Unlike in case of fixed connections, mobile broadband usage is always, er, mobile. This was one of the many odd locations we conducted testing.
LIRNEasia’s advertisements last week, while highlighting the limited usage of Mobile 2.0 services by ‘low income’ users, suggested steps to be taken by regulators/policy makers and operators to make Mobile 2.0 galore. . We think this is the right time for Emerging Asian mobile operators to adopt what we call an Mobile Application Store or ‘App-Store’ model.
Was Sri Lanka’s reaction to tsunami alert today early morning effective enough? Did we observe the dos and don’ts? We do not jump to conclusions. The information is inadequate and contradictory at times. We will try reconstructing from what we heard, from mass media and other sources.
Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara wants telecom tariffs down. Quoting an unnamed ‘prominent mobile operator’ who placed the operational cost of a phone call at LKR 0.20 (Less than one fifth of a US cent) at a meeting at the Treasury, Mr. Nanayakkara asks why not the telecom firms reduce the mobile phone charges. LIRNEasia welcomes this move and plans to present the research findings of its own and those of Nokia on the telecom tariff and mobile phone ownership costs at the public hearing.
LIRNEasia researcher Joseph Wilson will talk at IDRC on the ‘Economic and Governance Challenges Facing Pakistan’ on June 1, 2010. Pakistan has achieved some economic success – mainly in agriculture and industry – despite recurring political instability since the country’s independence in 1947, says Wilson. Yet millions of Pakistanis still live below the poverty line. Inadequate basic infrastructure –notably electricity supply- and low levels of social development continue to constrain economic growth. Pakistan ranks among the worst performers on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and is beset with a range of governance challenges.
The Grand Trunk Road, which covers a distance of 2,500 km today, says Wikipedia, is one of South Asia’s oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan. The road also passes through the only road boarder between the two most powerful South Asian nations, Wagah. Wagah border point, often called the “Berlin wall of Asia”, is a ceremonial border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’. At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (BSF) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers.