Rohan Samarajiva


In Myanmar, the third operator overtook the second, and is close to the first. In Sri Lanka, the fourth operator reached first place within a few years and never let go of that position. That’s evidence enough that entry order is not the sole deciding factor. But the fact that MPT under new management is still in the lead shows that it’s not insignificant. One needs a new business model, a different technology or some secret sauce.
Data sovereignty, or the desire of states to exert unfettered control over data associated with natural and legal persons under their jurisdiction, was seen as an issue with the highest salience at a foresight event I participated in Bengaluru a few days ago. Several of us thought that the states will push for greater control in the immediate future and will be met with significant resistance from citizens and companies (varying across different kinds of data and different countries; health data may be easier than traffic data; states in big countries are more likely to prevail than those in small ones). We expected some kind of equilibrium to be achieved in around 5-10 years. The effort by law enforcement authorities in the US to compel Microsoft to handover the contents of email stored in Ireland and the case of the Great Firewall of China came up in discussion. Here is a discussion on recent developments in China: This is worrying not just for people who want to surf the web without annoying obstructions.
The consultation document on Myanmar’s Universal Service Strategy includes the following paragraph: For Myanmar, mobile voice and broadband data services are considered basic communications services and thus are part of the country’s universal service definition. In 2016, 83% of households have a mobile phone, and 78% of mobile phone owners have a smartphone, allowing broadband Internet services to be used on mobile devices. Clearly, the large majority of the population enjoys these services, therefore these ‘universal’ services also need to be made available for the minority that do not have these services today. Given how many countries debated whether or not broadband should be included in universal service subsidy programs, the above conclusion at the very outset of the program is quite significant. The conclusion is based on specific evidence.
Many thought that the draconian demonetization of 2016 would have moved India’s digital financial services industry into an entirely different level. It created momentum, but not as much as expected according to the NYT. According to the report only 14 percent of those able to go online (around 1/3rd of Indians) use digital payments. But what is important is that the Indian firms are focusing on consumer payments, not money transfers. There’s a much stronger contribution to the building of the eco system through this means.
I have been cautious about buying the Western media story on China’s social credit system, but I had little other than gut feeling for my caution. Now finally, here is an analysis that will balance the Western narrative, which the author says is more about what those in the West worry about and not about what is actually happening in China. Debate over the appropriate balance between security and liberty is nothing new. While technological and data management innovations have introduced new tools, it can’t surprise anyone to learn where China’s Communist Party draws the line between individual privacy and social stability. If anything, I would have thought that the plan’s faith in market forces and private business, or the efforts at government legitimacy through increasing transparency, would have been more surprising to those outside of China.
Privacy is a subjective thing. Some of it is from the inside of the individual; some is social. It’s not immutable. It’s not the same across societies. Now after Yudhanjaya’s reflection on the Chinese social credit system, we are more interested than ever in what is going on in China.
   LIRNEasia’s first publication for 2018 has just arrived. Summing up the learnings from multiple projects, LIRNEasia’s Human Capital Team Leader Sujata Gamage contributed a chapter to Education in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Islands, edited by Hema Letchamanan and Debotri Dhar for a prestigious book series entitled “Education Around the World” published by Bloomsbury. She is now engaged in converting these insights on general education into practical policy measures at the invitation of the Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka. The book also includes a chapter on higher education, co-authored by Board Member Vishaka Nanayakkara.
When we discovered that Nepal had only spent 2.6 percent of the universal-service funds it had collected since 1997, we were shocked. No government could do worse, we thought. But we were wrong. The Bangladesh government’s disbursement rate is much easier to calculate.
For more than a year, we at LIRNEasia have been working on the analysis of images. The NYT story on Stanford researchers working on Google Street View describes the potential well. For computers, as for humans, reading and observation are two distinct ways to understand the world, Mr. Lieberman Aiden said. In that sense, he said, “computers don’t have one hand tied behind their backs anymore.
Two years ago, I wrote this in my year-end message to the LIRNEasia team: The first thing that comes to mind is the book club. Not something that LIRNEasia management initiated, but something that spontaneously emerged. Having learned more from the books that I hid under my desk in school than from formal education, I strongly believe the value of reading. And I happen to also believe that fiction and poetry are perhaps the best vehicles for communicating the most abstract of truths. The business gurus and even the foundations are now going on about the power of stories, another thing LIRNEasia was ahead of the curve on.
Myanmar Times Opinion by Namali Premawardhana Namali Premawardhana’s op-ed based on the ITU’s Measuring the Information Society 2017 report and LIRNEasia’s own survey results has been published in Myanmar’s leading English newspaper, the Myanmar Times. Here are two of the summary paras: Two important aspects of ICT development which the ITU does not address are women and digital literacy. Myanmar’s story of ICT access, use and skills among women and other marginalised communities is less impressive than the broader narrative. The 2016 LIRNEasia data revealed that although more women in Myanmar own a phone now than in 2015, men were 28pc more likely to own a mobile phone. In addition, nearly half of mobile handset owners require help to perform basic activities with a phone, such as installation of an app, creating logins and passwords and adjusting settings.
It is natural to think of state entities as the key actors in south-south cooperation (SSC) for improving public-service delivery. But as the highlighted example of Bangladesh’s Union Digital Centers (UDCs) shows, non-state actors can play important roles in public-service innovation. If true innovation is the objective, it would behoove the UN Office for South-South Cooperation and other interested parties to cast the net wider to include innovative organizational mechanisms as well as government innovations.
Better late than never. Why it took multiple decades after the establishment of the Universal Service Fund to spend the money to connect the unconnected in India’s North East is the question. It’s not that there was a shortage of money. Bharti Airtel Ltd will set up 2,000 mobile towers across villages and national highways in the North East with the help of government funding, the company said in a press statement on Sunday. The telecom operator has signed an agreement with the department of telecommunications and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to provide mobile services in 2,100 villages across Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh over the next 18 months.
Better late than never. Why it took multiple decades after the establishment of the Universal Service Fund to spend the money to connect the unconnected in India’s North East is the question. It’s not that there was a shortage of money. Bharti Airtel Ltd will set up 2,000 mobile towers across villages and national highways in the North East with the help of government funding, the company said in a press statement on Sunday. The telecom operator has signed an agreement with the department of telecommunications and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to provide mobile services in 2,100 villages across Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh over the next 18 months.
Following Beniger, I have pointed to the need for control in soft sense as the driver for much of what is going in ICTs these days. But is China understanding control in a hard sense? China Telecom showed off its ability to measure the amount of trash in several garbage cans and detect malfunctioning fire hydrants. Investors and analysts say China’s unabashed fervor for collecting such data, combined with its huge population, could eventually give its artificial intelligence companies an edge over American ones. If Silicon Valley is marked by a libertarian streak, China’s vision offers something of an antithesis, one where tech is meant to reinforce and be guided by the steady hand of the state.
Following Beniger, I have pointed to the need for control in soft sense as the driver for much of what is going in ICTs these days. But is China understanding control in a hard sense? China Telecom showed off its ability to measure the amount of trash in several garbage cans and detect malfunctioning fire hydrants. Investors and analysts say China’s unabashed fervor for collecting such data, combined with its huge population, could eventually give its artificial intelligence companies an edge over American ones. If Silicon Valley is marked by a libertarian streak, China’s vision offers something of an antithesis, one where tech is meant to reinforce and be guided by the steady hand of the state.