Helani Galpaya


If anything, it is Facebook that is a bigger culprit or conduit for hate speech, not so much the picture-less/video-less Zero Rated Facebook version. So suddenly celebrating the pull-out/failure of the Zero Rated Facebook, while the full version of  Facebook is alive and well is rather misguided.
My colleagues and I at LIRNEasia are delighted that Rohan Samarajiva has been appointed as the Chair of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka.  As a frequent commentator on ICTs, development and regulation, it’s well known that he has a strategic vision of what the ICT sector can achieve and contribute to Sri Lanka’s people and our country’s place in the world.  As a former regulator, he knows the important role government (or a government agency like ICTA) can play in enabling that vision. But at the same time (and what I consider an important facet) is that he is a firm believer in what government does NOT have to do, if the private sector, well-functioning markets, and a civil society are available.  So ICTA is in good hands in terms of finding it’s “place” in the world, and hopefully enabling the ICT-actors in Sri Lanka and citizens reaching their maximum potential.
The inaugural board meeting of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD, more popularly known for their twitter @data4SDGs) was held on the 22nd of September.  I  participated as a GPSDD board member. Significant achievements have been made by GPSDD since its inception, culminating in high level support for the need for good data to measure SDGs, with many nation states making statements at the UN General Assembly which concluded just two days before the board meeting. But countries saying the right things (i.e.
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.
It seems everyone is talking about digital platforms and digital labor.  This is not surprising, given the amount of news Uber alone is creating in many countries, including the ones LIRNEasia works in.  Everyone is worried about the impacts on labor and working conditions, while some are optimistic about the welfare effects created, especially for consumers who now have more choice and often cheaper rides. Last year we completed the Sri Lanka part of a project looking at a specific type of platform-enabled economic activity that completes a transition with the buyer and seller never meeting – that of on online freelancing and microwork.  We are now looking at the same phenomena in India, and will soon start the same research in Myanmar.
We have argued that zero rated services that don’t discriminate against providers of similar content are less problematic than the ones that do. So, for example, a zero-rated service that allows users to stream music for free without discriminating based on who provides (produces, distributes or aggregates) the music is less problematic because music from any content provider has an equal chance of being streamed, as long as the users like it, without interference from a gatekeeper. The Netherlands courts appear to agree – today they ruled that T-Mobile’s zero rated music service is allowed, even though it is against the country’s net neutrality rulings.   More info at mobileworldlive.com  
Earlier this week I was asked to speak at the Myanmar Digital Rights Forum. While many countries worried about connecting people for about a decade after deregulation, and only then started debating about the “softer” issues of the Internet, Myanmar is engaging in this debate now.  What kind of Internet should people of Myanmar connect to? How can Myanmarese ensure their basic human writes in their digital lives? How to make the Internet experience safe?
Text-voice readers that enable visually challenged persons to access books, websites and other content have been around in English and many other languages for years. In Myanmar too, many have attempted over the years to develop the Myanmar Language version of some of the most popular conversion engines. This week, we brought one of the world’s leaders in such software, Dr Dipendra Manocha, and his colleague Mr Piyush Chanana to Yangon to diagnose the problem and map the way forward. Dipendra and Piyush met with Myanmar National Association for the Blind (Mr. Benedict La Hkun and Mr.
India started in April 2015, when the regulator (TRAI) proposed rules for how application/content providers (Over the Top Players, or OTTs) should be regulated, taxed and treated (that  debate got sidelined in the battle over Facebook and FreeBasics, but that’s a different story). Now it’s South Africa’s turn.  It seems that two operators are pushing for the regulator (ICASA) for regulation of OTTs, specifically that WhatsApp should be subject to local tax.  These are two of the bigger telcos that are asking for this.  Supporting their point of view of course are the national security hawks, who possibly don’t care about the tax, but want access to the OTT content (in this case, the content of WhatApp messages), and see this as the opportunity for catch-all regulation.
OTTs and telcos really need to come up with better names to differentiate their products and services.  Really.  Or maybe confusion is just the point. First there was Free Basics, Facebook’s service which gives free access to a set of applications inside the app (it was previously called Internet.org, a supposedly clever name which of course was used by Facebooks critics point out the fact that it wasn’t really the “Internet”, but again, perhaps that was the point).
At the 2015 Stockholm Internet Forum that just completed, I moderated one of the best attended unconference sessions titled “Zero rating violates net neutrality. So what?“. The discussion I moderated was heated, with a spectrum of opinions being expressed.  Some said that zero rated content simply creates a ghetto-ized version of the Internet for the poor and therefore should not be allowed.
The raging debate on Zero Rated content is, for the most part, taking place in a vacuum of evidence. A successful campaign by activists  ensured that many of the 1.2 million responses sent to TRAI’s proposed net neutrality regulations in April 2015 called for banning internet.org (Facebook’s Zero Rated offering, now called Free Basics).  The fear that the poor who use the free version of the internet offered by Facebook will not use anything else but Facebook has been one of the harms many advocates put forth.
LIRNEasia recently conducted a nationally representative survey of ICT and knowledge use in Myanmar.  Some of the top-line results were presented for the first time at the ICTD2015 conference last week. The panel was organised by Rich Ling, PhD and Elisa Oreglia, PhD of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Slides can be found here. This is an updated version of the slides which were presented on 18 May 2015.
Low connectivity and low regulatory capacity are characteristics of most emerging Asian countries.  Any NN regulation needs to take these realities into account.  So when we looked at the possible ways TRAI can and should act, we ended somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Read our response here.
Last weekend, talking about policy and regulatory issues will drive Pakistan’s adoption of broadband.  My co-panellists were Faisal Sattar (CEO of Pakistan’s Universal Service Fund), Salman Ansari (former advisor to the Ministry of IT & Telecom in Pakistan) and Kojo Boakye (Policy Manager at the Web Foundation). I was at Pakistan ICTD Workshop organized by newly set up Information Technology University  in Lahore and the Punjab Information Technology Board.  The fact that both organizations are headed by one individual (Umar Saif, PhD and the fact that the Punjab Chief Minister (Shahbaz Shariff, brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff) has taken a personal interest in using ICT-enabled governance has led to some interesting results.  The students and faculty at IT-University are in the wonderful position of having a willing and eager client (in the form of Punjab IT Board) who roll-out and scales up the applications they developed.
Last weekend 2nd – 4th of Friday, Random Hacks of Kindness events were taking place is cities across the world (New York, London, Montreal, …).  Thanks to an invitation from IDRC and Nokia (sponsors of the Montreal RHoK) , I was able to be in Montreal, in the company of 80+ software enthusiasts (geeks, hackers, call them what you will) who had volunteered 30 hours of their week end to develop ICT solutions to development problems. The problem I needed help was related our research agriculture value chains, specifically the pineapple value chain in Sri Lanka A  farmer cannot tell at the point of purchase if a pineapple sapling or sucker is “good” (that it will yield a plant and then fruit that is of adequate quality, free of disease). Only after she has bought it, planted it and many months later the pineapple plant has grown and borne fruit will it be obvious that the sucker was bad.  While there could be many perfect solutions (third party chemical testing, certifications), these are difficult to implement.
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