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After a weeklong blackout, the Sri Lankan government lifted its nationwide ban on social media on Thursday. Facebook and several other platforms had been shut down after days of violence targeting Muslims in the Kandy district, a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims.
Online hate speech has become commonplace in Myanmar. PEN Myanmar (2015) analysed posts from Facebook over a year, noting that the incidence of hate speech pertaining to a topic was often tied to a controversial, topical event– the appearance of posts regarding politics, for instance, increased during the elections held in November 2015. LIRNEasia and MIDO, along with Kantar TNS Myanmar, were on the field carrying out qualitative research in Myanmar in late August 2017 when conflict in the Rakhine region escalated.  Many accounts revolved around the prevailing conflict came up in the interviews with 95 respondents in Yangon, Mandalay and Myitkyina. A few respondents openly expressed their displeasure regarding the situation, and spoke of how the posts they encountered online pushed them to want to incite violence.
5G will make many demands of spectrum managers. It will also pose challenges in terms of the over-reliance on microwave in the backhaul segment. The debate has started. It’s time for developing-country regulators and policy makers to start engaging: Companies still have room to influence 5G technology because it has not yet been deployed. As of now, a group called 3GPP — staffed by engineers from many companies — has been defining the specifications so that devices that operate with 5G technology can “talk” to one another.
I was asked by the FT about the Facebook shut-down decision of the government. Here is my response: It is true that Facebook as well as Viber, etc. have been, and are being, extensively used by various extremist groups to organize. The climate for this conflagration was created by mainstream media such as Divaina, which gave coverage to hate speech as well as by hate speech messages that were circulated among their circles of friends and family without central direction by members of the majority community using social media, not limited to Facebook. The root cause of the problem lies in this insidious spread of falsehoods and hate over multiple years, not solely in the specific messages being communicated now.
Back in 2002-03 when we were designing the e Sri Lanka initiative, we worried a lot about a ubiquitous mechanism that could enable small online payments. I was hearing more or less the same concerns about the lack of a good payments infrastructure at a digital strategy meeting last week. It appears the India government has solved the problem: WATCHING money drain from your bank account has never been so much fun. On WhatsApp, a messaging service ubiquitous in India, sending rupees is now as easy as posting a selfie. Set-up is a breeze, because all Indian banks have been corralled onto a common payment platform on which anyone, from Google and Samsung to local payment firms and banks themselves, can build their own user interface.
The first post on big data on this website was in September 2011. By 2012, we were working on the topic with mobile network big data in hand. Six years ago, we were alone in the field. The meetings we had in multiple countries with multiple operators did not yield the additional data we desired. But we can be happy that our efforts such as an early dissemination effort at ITU Telecom World may have contributed to a more enlightened attitude that made possible the effort described below: The GSMA has announced that more operators have joined its “Big Data for Social Good” initiative and that the first wave of trials have been conducted by Bharti Airtel, Telefonica and Telenor.
Policy making in times of rapidly changing technology is not easy. Here is a description of the architecture of the new 5G networks: The new technology, known as 5G, delivers wireless internet at far faster speeds than existing cellular connections. But it also requires different hardware to deliver the signals. Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts. Much of the equipment will be on streetlights or utility poles, often accompanied by containers the size of refrigerators on the ground.
On the 13th of February, a team from Lirneasia – comprised of Professor Rohan Samarajiva, Dr. Sujata Gamage, and myself – presented some of our research at the Trivedi Center at Ashoka University in Delhi, India. Ashoka, for those of us who are not familiar with it, is a private university that focuses on liberal arts: their capital stems from philanthropic contributions.   The Trivedi audience were a mix of high-level academics and students  – most with a base degree in computer science. Trivedi is dedicated to putting together datasets on Indian politics.
Economies of scale of production of telecom equipment are considerable. There are only a few manufacturers and most countries rely on foreign suppliers. But there are concerns about surveillance being built into the equipment itself, enabling the governments of the countries where the manufacturers are located to spy on others. This issue has come to the fore now as Chinese suppliers are increasingly displacing Western companies. PCMag, a US publication, provides a useful analysis: Network equipment is, in general, where spying happens.
We have been writing about network shutdowns for a long time. We even formulated a law to explain its workings. Now finally a court has ruled: The judgement reads as, “For what has been discussed above, the instant appeal and the connected petitions are allowed. Consequently, the actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority, as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3).

City as platform

Posted by on February 24, 2018  /  0 Comments

We’ve been writing about smart cities for a while. Many of the plans for the design of these complex organisms have fallen short of expectations. But now some are taking a new approach: Sidewalk thinks of smart cities as being rather like smartphones. It sees itself as a platform provider responsible for offering basic tools (from software that identifies available parking spots to location-based services monitoring the exact position of delivery robots), much as Google does with its smartphone operating system, Android. Details are still under discussion, but Sidewalk plans to let third parties access the data and technologies, just as developers can use Google’s and Apple’s software tools to craft apps.

The importance of being earnest

Posted by on February 23, 2018  /  0 Comments

A recent post reflected on the issues with a broadband price ranking that was seemingly issued by or, in the least, endorsed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). There were comments and debates on social media about this WEF ranking that placed Sri Lanka as the 17th least expensive for broadband in the world. Given LIRNEasia’s history and interest in ICT indicators we delved into the methodology and found it to be highly flawed. We also found out that while it was cited on the WEF website, it was not commissioned by the WEF. I presented a critique to the WEF which was published on their blog.
This is not the first time Engel’s Law has been written about here. And unlikely the last time. The 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey report is out and we’ve started poking around for insights. Here is a sample: From a high of 60.9% of total household expenditures spent on food in 1990-91, the food ratio has declined to 34.

What is not bias?

Posted by on February 21, 2018  /  0 Comments

Bias is an important topic in general. It is of special significance to a research organization. Issues of bias being built into models that are beginning to play significant roles in society and economy are coming to the forefront of public discourse. So we decided to talk about this topic at a Journal Club. Colleagues from University of Moratuwa’s DataSearch also attended.
Rohan Samarajiva Sarvodaya Fusion, Ministry of Disaster Management & UNDP 19 February 2018
I was invited to speak at the launch of the UNDP-funded DataSmart initiative of the Ministry of Disaster Management, where some work is being done by Sarvodaya Fusion. I talked about the need not only to collect data, but also to ensure that it produced the right kind of information that could be translated by the beneficiaries into action that saved lives and protected assets and livelihoods. We need to think beyond generalized disaster warnings to provide people in particular locations with specific, actionable information that they could use, such as the river will crest in this particular location at x meters at this specific time. I went on to talk about the need to have more granular rainfall data that could be fed into models that could yield the kinds of actionable information people living in our river valleys could use. The attenuation of microwave transmissions caused by rainfall is built into the operation of the ubiquitous mobile networks.