Noteworthy


In 2008-10 LIRNEasia completed a research project on knowledge to innovation, that had a major focus on solid waste disposal. Following the garbage landslide just outside Colombo a week ago, the country has been aflame in debate on solid waste management. The PI of the solid waste project was invited to participate in a TV talk show two days ago. Her principal point was that there were too many government entities involved. Now we see the President making the same point.
I’ve been invited to deliver the chief guest’s address at International Conference on “India’s Communication Policy and Strategy,” at Manipal University, Karnataka, India, March 17-18, 2017. The topic I picked is “Communication policy in the age of Facebook.” Here is what I think is the key para: Though difficult, it is possible to develop a comprehensive, modern policy for the communication space through diligent consultation and the involvement of multiple agencies of government. But it would suffer from a fundamental instability. This is because the media (broadly defined) are no longer just a segment of the economy.
In July of 2016, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, announced a new multi-million dollar funding initiative to support collaborative data innovations for sustainable development. The University of Tokyo and Colombo-based LIRNEasia are among the winners in the pilot round of this initiative. Their proposal, entitled “Dynamic Census,” aims to improve the existing census approach by deriving insights from mobile operators’ call detail records (CDR). It will supplement population and housing census data by adding dynamic aspects of population distribution to changes in population distribution over time, at high frequency. More details.
LIRNEasia’s research findings from the nationally representative survey on ICT use and information needs conducted in 2016 are being quoted by officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Myanmar, Htaike Htaike Aung of MIDO reports.  Most recently, it has been quoted by U Myo Swe, Deputy Director General of the Post and Telecommunications Department at a consultative workshop on universal service strategy, design and implementation held today (16 February 2017) in Yangon. Key figures such as household mobile ownership (83%) and poor digital skills were mentioned by U Swe.  The increase in mobile ownership in rural areas was also highlighted. LIRNEasia’s research findings showed that mobile ownership in rural Myanmar increased from 26% to 53% between 2015 and 2016.
In the course of reviewing Jonathan Donner’s After Access: Inclusion, Development, and a More Mobile Internet (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015), I realized why we always had trouble fitting in at most ICT for Development conferences and perhaps why our papers (and those of RIA) had trouble getting accepted. It was because were not doing conventional ICTD interventions (the first described below) but were removing barriers or roadblocks (the subtitle of our first book). One form of intervention, privileged in this book, is initiated by an external actor who knows what effective use is, for the benefit of the subjects who do not. The other form seeks to remove barriers to innovation by users of ICT and by those who seek to supply ICT goods and services to such users. This generally takes the form of legal or policy reform to enable certain actions (e.
It’s been a long time coming. The paper that Sangamitra Ramachander presented at CPRsouth 2011 based on Teleuse@BOP research has finally been published. We are happy, both for a young researcher getting published in a prestigious journal and for the fact that it gets our research out to academic readers. The private sector in developing countries is increasingly interested in extending mobile telephony services to low income and rural markets that were previously considered unprofitable. Determining the right price is a central challenge in this context.
I did not have to go looking for them. They came up to me and fondly spoke of what they had learned at previous CPRsouth events. In some cases the interactions had happened more than five years ago. I was gratified. The objective of CPRsouth is not to equip young people for the academic industry; it is to encourage and equip them to take research to policy.
“The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania conducts research on the role policy institutes play in governments and civil societies around the world.” In its latest report LIRNEasia was listed under the category “Top Think Tanks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific” along with IPS, RCSS and CEPA from Sri Lanka and was only South Asian think tank to be listed under “Best Policy Study-Report Produced by a Think Tank ” which was focused on our work in Big Data for Development. We were the only Sri Lankan entity to be listed “Best Independent Think Tanks” in an unranked list of 144 global think tanks. The TTCSP works with leading scholars and practitioners from think tanks and universities in a variety of collaborative efforts and programs, and produces the annual Global Go To Think Tank Index that ranks the world’s leading think tanks in a variety of categories. This is achieved with the help of a panel of over 1,900 peer institutions and experts from the print and electronic media, academia, public and private donor institutions, and governments around the world.
Three years back I wrote about the Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) cable. It has been officially activated today. In my engagement with the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway of ESCAP, I have been consistently referring to BBG as Asia’s very first cross-sector telecoms infrastructure that links beyond the border. The designers of BBG have very wisely bypassed the pirate infested infamous strait of Malacca. From double landing stations at Singapore it traverses across Malaysia and terminates at Penang.
Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.” Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
China Unicom has built the US$50 million China-Myanmar International (CMI) terrestrial link. But it is yet to be activated for unknown reasons and Myanmar keeps suffering from outages. Now Beijing has ceremoniously announced its plan to build a Sino-ASEAN submarine cable network without revealing any details. South Asia and Southeast Asia has become the hotbed of Sino-Japanese rivalry, especially after the formation of AIIB. This new development bank has gained unprecedented global membership at a lightning pace.
It has been estimated that submarine cables carry traffic associated with over US$10 trillion in transactional value globally per day. It is being also claimed that submarine cables transport 99% of the international data worldwide. These are largely true, yet exaggerated marketing pitch. Terrestrial cables also carry huge volume of international data traffic across the borders, especially within Europe and across the Eurasian routes. It, however, makes no difference with the consumers as long as they remain online.
Back in 2013, UN ESCAP, in partnership with the ITU, published an online map of the cables that carry Internet traffic in the Asia Pacific. We at LIRNEasia were very happy about this because we had been working with ESCAP since 2010 and Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan who worked up the idea of highlighting the importance of international backhaul has been engaged with the process ever since. One usually expects novel policy initiatives to occur in the developed market economies and then to be replicated in the developing regions. In this case the order was reversed, though it is possible that the ESCAP-ECA-ITU maps may lack the level of granular detail the US map appears to be backed by. It may not look like much at first glance, but a map created by University of Wisconsin computer science professor Paul Barford and about a dozen colleagues took around four years to produce.
I was listening to a presentation on Work-related Use and Positive Livelihood Outcomes among Mobile Phone Users in Asia by Komathi Ale*, Uni. of Southern California, at ICTD 2015 in Singapore. I was pleased to see some of our publications being cited, but that was just the beginning. After the literature review, the author announced that the entire paper was based on the LIRNEasia teleuse@BOP data set that was publicly available. We have made all datasets open since the beginning of the teleuse@BOP work.
Late in 2013, the book Information lives of the poor that I co-authored along with Laurent Elder and colleagues from our African and Latin American partner organizations, came out. We supported MIDO in translating it into Myanmar given its significance to the mobile revolution on that country. Now IDRC has released six short videos that summarize the findings.
Just a few days ago, the big data team posted some thoughts on how TRAI could analyze the one million plus comments it received in response to its consultation paper on OTT services. The Business Standard has extensively quoted from that collectively authored suggestions on how technology could help productively mobilize the flood of citizen ideas enabled by technology. Last year, the corporate affairs ministry had commissioned a platform to receive responses on the hundreds of sections and sub-sections of the Companies Act. The platform, built by Corporate Professionals, allowed section-wise responses; it classified responses under different heads such as drafting errors and conceptual issues. Further, separate log-in ids were provided for different sections of stakeholders.