bypass


I was reading the 2014 Annual Report of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, where on page 37 the PTA reports that international calls being terminated on Pakistani mobile networks has decreased dramatically since 2011-12, from 10.8 billion minutes to 5.6 billion minutes in 2013-14. The PTA even says that “one view is that this is due to the introduction of the International Clearing House (ICH).” But no reaching of the obvious conclusion: abolish the ICH and stop playing ineffective cartel manager.
The Government of Pakistan has ordered an expensive re-verification process of all mobile SIMs in the aftermath of the Peshawar Massacre. Aslam Hayat, a LIRNEasia alumnus now with Telenor Pakistan, has pointed out that the root cause is being ignored: However this does not mean that the system is foolproof, there is possibility that at the retail-end, some of the sellers may violate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for small gains without the support and knowledge of the mobile operators. The big question is why somebody would do this and why there is demand for SIMs on fake subscriptions. Without fear of contradiction, I can say with confidence that no franchisee or a retailer will ever knowingly sell a SIM to a terrorist or a person having intent to commit a heinous crime. The dominant buyer of bulk SIMs is the group of people involved in bringing grey international incoming calls.
OECD has done a good analysis of the wrong-headedness of raising international voice call termination rates, and indeed of having international termination rates. Outside the OECD countries, the price has been dropping too, accompanied by a huge increase in traffic. Calls from the United States to India increased eight fold over 2003-2011 for example. But not everybody has benefited. Despite a massive increase in the number of telephones in Africa, international calls to that continent from the United States remained stagnant during this same period.
The language on ICTs in the 2012 Sri Lanka budget (paras 50-53) is pretty vague. Basically, LKR 500 million will be added to efforts to provide IT education and all government departments and agencies will have to work with the ICT Agency when they introduce IT into their systems. And, there are plans to set up a technology city in Hambantota that will hopefully attract IT and ITES firms there. But the really good stuff is in Para 53. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission will implement policies and strategies to encourage telecommunication companies to give priority for the development of broad-band network facilities.
When I ceased to proffer policy advice to the government of Bangladesh some time back, I predicted that the International Long Distance Telecommunication Services Policy would fail, and that bypass would not be eradicated.  Seeing a report that massive bypass was reemerging after a quiet period following arrests and confiscations, I wrote an oped in the Daily Star urging a reworking of the policy.  Here is an excerpt: In 2007 when the government-appointed committee formulating the international Long Distance Telecommunication Services (ILTDS) Policy sought my advice, I told them that the larger policy objectives would be best served by liberalising international gateways. Liberalisation would enhance the competitiveness of Bangladesh’s export industries and create conditions for the efflorescence of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, thereby generating white-collar jobs for educated youth. It would eradicate the cancer of black money generated from the bypass business that was corroding the country’s body politic.