Shazna Zuhyle

NTC conducted a second public hearing on its proposed memorandum circular on broadband QoS. LIRNEasia Research Fellow, Grace Mirandilla-Santos reiterated LIRNEasia’s recommendations that diagnostics should take into consideration consumer experience, must be transparent and results published in a format that consumers can understand and use, should help inform consumers’ decisions when availing of services (e.g., publishing average or typical speeds per ISP per city). Her recommendations have been seconded by Senator Bam Aquino.
The most recent State of the Internet report by Akamai lists the Philippines (global rank 105) and India (global rank 115) at the bottom in terms of average connection speed for fixed broadband (fixed BB). The average speed (2.5 Mbps and 2 Mbps respectively) isn’t the real issue. The quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) change that is pretty much non existent and the year-over-year (YoY) change that averages at 30% for both are bigger issues, in my opinion; specially in contrast with Indonesia that has a 49% QoQ change and a 149% YoY change. These are also the 2 economies that have a less than 10% broadband adoption rate, among those surveyed (significant disconnect with ITU numbers for India’s Fixed Broadband Subscriptions per 100, but still under 10%).
Net Neutrality has been debated, discussed and re-discussed for a while now, mainly in the context of the west. For the first time however, it is now being debated in India, “virtually overnight”, when Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile network provider announced preferential pricing for VoIP services. The government is in favour of maintaining net neutrality as the Internet is an instrument for the masses and must remain so, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said, marking the first time the Centre has adopted a public stand on the subject. “The Internet must promote local along with the global. For India, net neutrality is very important,” Prasad, also the IT minister, said at a meeting with US Under-Secretary of State Catherine Novelli.
A recent article on the Tribune compares Pakistan’s “poor performance” to global averages in download speeds for broadband. The piece is based on Ookla’s most recent Net Index (which is calculated on a rolling 30-day average). While some arguments are legit, the author fails to realise a few things: 1. Speed it not the only metric that affects quality. Depending on what the Internet is being used for latency (or RTT, round trip time) plays an important and sometimes critical role.
      Broadband in the Philippines has been receiving a lot of negative press. LIRNEasia research confirms the poor quality received in Manila. In response, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) called for a public consultation for which LIRNEasia responded to. The regulator has been granted P 15.5 million (2015) for the benchmarking of broadband quality of all service providers.
Last year, Helani Galpaya (CEO, LIRNEasia) made recommendations on improving The Alliance for Affordable Internet (AA4I)‘s Affordability Index. This year, on behalf of Helani, I attended the Affordability Index workshop in Cape Town. While the primary objective was to review the 2014 draft report, the working group members present at the workshop also voiced many concerns that are being considered by the A4AI. It is good to note that some of Helani’s comments from last year have been addressed. The fact that the objective data from organisations like the ITU are not timely has been acknowledged and the working group has been provided with a comprehensive list of indicators (with sources) used in the Index.

How affordable is Broadband?

Posted by on October 27, 2014  /  1 Comments

The affordability of broadband is something many people have been dabbling with. In 2013 the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) released a report with composite index that attempts to rank economies based on the affordability of the Internet. Here’s another take on the same, from the World Economic Forum. It is also interesting to note that there are 14 countries where the monthly price of broadband is more than 100% of the average monthly income. Moreover, there are 39 countries with an estimated aggregated population of more than 840 million people that have broadband prices higher than 5% of monthly income for all deciles…  
The recently released report on the State of Broadband 2014 declares specific targets; Advocacy Target 1: Making broadband policy universal – by 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in UAS Definitions Advocacy Target 2: Making broadband affordable – by 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces Advocacy Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband – by 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access Advocacy Target 4: Getting people online – by 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs Advocacy Target 5: Achieving gender equality in access to broadband by 2020 How realistic are these targets? I was once told (by a member of the team responsible for setting such targets) that they are not meant to be realistic. The idea being that once declared people will strive to achieve and that will ensure achievement beyond their previous trajectory. The definition of broadband was something I was looking for; however, it seems the ITU and OECD definition by speed (a minimum of 256 Kbps) has not changed. Although, “the Broadband Commission for Digital Development has defined […]
The Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) of Pakistan circulated the initial draft Telecom Policy 2014 for comments in October this year. The policy addresses all aspects relating to the telecom sector and has progressive suggestions sans sufficient detail. As a result, specific comments could not be made. However, LIRNEasia has provided recommendations based on past research, specifically on broadband quality of service, the releasing of the 700 MHz spectrum band, license renewals and universal service funds (USF). We look forward to engaging with the local authorities, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for example, to provide more precise recommendations.
Despite proposing minimum broadband speeds during a public consultation for wireless communication technologies, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has  now revoked its proposition. The consultation issued in April this year received 56 responses, including one from LIRNEasia. In May 2014 TRAI requested for counter comments. However, after having gone through the whole process it seems that the telecom operators have been given the freedom to define the speeds themselves by not mandating a minimum. Instead, the following is in effect: (4)Every Service Provider shall ensure that the details of Minimum download speed available to the consumer, in its wireless data plans, are –(a) printed on the vouchers of the wireless data plans(b) published on its websites and all advertisements of wireless data plans; and(c) available at its complaint centers and sale outlets   Gazette notification and press release.
Quality of Service Experience (QoSE) is generally not what ISPs worry about. QoSE however, is what affects the user’s broadband experience. LIRNEasia’s broadband benchmarking efforts have consistently been about QoSE. In a recent launch of its new service Google aims to provide statistics based on streaming media via YouTube, that will help users make informed choices of ISPs. It seems however that this service uses a ‘push’ mechanism as opposed to a ‘pull’.
The broader plan is to reach a minimum download speed of 2 Mbps by 2015. But for now, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has upped the minimum download speed from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps (article available here). They have also re-defined this metric in the amendment to the regulation; a data connection that is able to support interactive services including internet access and has the capability of minimum download speed of 512kbps to an individual subscriber from the point of presence (POP) of the service provider intending to provide broadband service LIRNEasia’s most recent report on broadband quality of service experience diagnostics illustrates the actual speed achieved as a percentage of the advertised. All three fixed broadband plans tested in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai under-perform consistently. The mobile broadband plans, including Airtel’s LTE, performs much worse.
Independent telecom / ICT policy researcher Grace Mirandilla-Santos of the Philippines recently presented the results of LIRNEasia’s research on Broadband Quality of Service Experience (QoSE) at the forum on the “Impact and Benefits of the Internet Exchange”. It was jointly organized by the ICTO under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Internet Society – PHChapter on June 27 2014. This was also a gathering of the Philippine Network Operators Group (PHNOG) composed of various telecom service providers and ISPs in the country.  The presentation spoke of the LIRNEasia methodology developed in collaboration with IIT-Madras and show cases select results with a Philippine focus. It also highlights the fact that download speed it not all that matters.
LIRNEasia CEO Helani Galpaya recently made a presentation on the use of mobile phones by low-income micro-entrepreneurs in selected cities in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh at the International Conference on Mobile Business 2014 held in London on the 4-5 June 2014. The presentation was based on a paper by Shazna Zuhyle and Roshanthi Lucas Gunaratne. The research was carried out in selected cities in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh where supply-side and demand side studies (quantitative survey and a qualitative study) were carried out. The sample of low-income micro-entrepreneurs was selected from urban locations (based on the definition of the respective National Statistic Offices) with 0-9 employees. Framed on LIRNEasia research, it is a descriptive paper of the study that provides recommendations to bridge the gap in service delivery to the under-served population.
In its recent public consultation, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) aim to set minimum download speeds for the different type of wireless technologies offered. This was based on the download speeds achieved and reported by the service providers over the last three quarters. The methods used while carrying out the diagnostics is not known. Further, it is perhaps more important to understand the consumers needs when access the Internet over the phone – is it for downloading or for browsing. There is no doubt that download speed matters, but latency also should be given some thought as that is what really affects the QoS for web browsing.
In mid 2012 the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a public consultation on standards for quality of service (QoS) related to mobile data services. LIRNEasia responded. Nearly two years since, the issues that prompted the public consultation persist. Consumers are being wooed by telecom companies in advertisements regarding high speed wireless data services and product packs in which they are promised speeds of up to 7.2 megabit a second or 21 megabit a second.