competition


A trade publication, Satellite Today, has written about an agreement between a satellite provider and the Ministry of Transport and Communication of Myanmar. Under the new multi-year, multi-transponder agreement, Intelsat 39 will host both C- and Ku-band satellite services for Myanmarsat-2, which will enable the government of Myanmar to significantly enhance its existing network as well as the networks of other mobile operators and media companies. This will advance the expansion of affordable, high-speed broadband and internet connectivity to government agencies, businesses and communities throughout the country. It will also support and advance the MOTC’s goal of ensuring that 95 percent of its population will have access to broadband connectivity by 2022. By integrating satellite solutions into its own mobile networks, the MOTC will be able to dramatically increase its overall network bandwidth, speed and reliability as it expands 3G and 4G services into the more remote areas of Myanmar.
We’ve been talking about competition as one of the major policy issues in the data analytics space. But this is an angle we had not thought about: China. Still, with the European Union enacting tough new privacy laws, and some in the United States eager to follow, Google and Facebook could soon be forced to find ways to make money beyond selling users’ personal information to advertisers, said Raj Rajgopal, president of digital business strategy at Virtusa Corporation, a consulting firm. “As profitability reduces, they’ll say, ‘Now I need to monetize my customer base,’” Mr. Rajgopal said.
In the course of teaching a course for the staff of the Post and Telecom Department of the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communication, I had occasion to look again at the comments we had submitted back on December 2013 for a consultation on draft regulations for the sector. This is from a comment on the regulations governing competition and price regulation: 30.5 Given the relative inexperience of the regulator in competition law and policy, the paucity of technical skills may well be a significant problem. Therefore, it may be prudent to establish a list of regulatory priorities and focus the existing human capital resources on the most important tasks. For instance, ensuring interconnection and access to new entrants is a key priority.
There was a time when regulation had three priorities: interconnection, interconnection and interconnection. Was it Maeve Sullivan who came up with that line? Anyway, we fought those battles, and then we got beyond that. So anyway, looks like it’s coming back in the form of interconnection of mobile financial services. Mr Collymore agreed that the industry needs greater cross-platform interoperability even as he argued that the process should be driven by market forces rather than regulatory intervention.
Learning from the experience of others, the licensing regime in Myanmar made it possible for companies that specialized in the operation of towers to function (unlike, say, in Sri Lanka). When the main business of a company is the leasing of space for antenna, it has incentives to use the towers most efficiently and to allow as many mobile network operators to use the space as possible. It is not that concerns over aesthetics and health are absent, but it would be fair to say that Myanmar could not have made the rapid progress it has achieved without this element of intelligent policy design. Fortunately for Myanmar’s telecom infrastructure companies, the market for rooftop real estate is booming. A fourth telco is due to launch this year, and Telenor and Ooredoo are in the midst of a major urban rollout.
We have been writing about competition issues around big data since 2014 (though I could claim 1991). Now the New York Times weighs in. The competition concerns echo those that gradually emerged in the 1990s about software and Microsoft. The worry is that as the big internet companies attract more users and advertisers, and gather more data, a powerful “network effect” effectively prevents users and advertisers from moving away from a dominant digital platform, like Google in search or Facebook in consumer social networks. Evidence of the rising importance of data can be seen from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software.
I hope to write more about the insightful discussions at the workshop convened by LIRNEasia and CIS. For now, here are the slides I used to frame the discussion on Harms from Surveillance, (In)security, and impacts upon Privacy and Competition. Image source.
Current research on micro-work platforms has given LIRNEasia much to think about. The conditions for successful participation in platforms are quite different in developing economies than in the developed economies they originate in. But that does not mean we should over regulate them, or regulate them badly. There is a lot of good innovation happening here, that requires space. We hope to address the questions raised in this article in the Economist, that concludes as follows: Regulators still have much to learn about how to deal with platforms.
One of the most critical steps in an inquiry on anti-competitive practices or a merger/acquisition is the definition of the relevant market. For example, did the relevant market for a newspaper merger include radio and TV stations? In the 1950s, Dupont was ruled to be non-dominant in the relevant market which was defined as wrapping material, not clear, waterproof cellophane. Just based on that the government case collapsed. In the case below, the government lawyers wanted to define the relevant market narrowly to stop a merger.
There is doubt whether the fourth operator can mount a credible entry, given delays that are a necessary feature of 13 partners being involved. But they are supposed to have a trump up their sleeve: the military, which is a partner through Star High Public, may give the yet-to-be-named fourth operator exclusive access to military sites for their towers. This seems anti-competitive, on the face. But because the regulator and the competition authority are not in place, they may get away with it. Three telecom companies, including Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public Ltd, Star High Public Co Ltd and Viettel from Vietnam are negotiating a business plan to form the fourth telecom company to operate in Myanmar.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
As befitting an article on BIG data, the writer of this piece, done for Center for Internet and Society, is liberal with superlatives. A colossal increase in the rate of digitization has resulted in an unprecedented increment in the amount of Big Data available, especially through the rapid diffusion cellular technology. The importance of mobile phones as a significant source of data, especially in low income demographics cannot be overstated. This can be used to understand the needs and behaviors of large populations, providing an in depth insight into the relevant context within which valuable assessments as to the competencies, suitability and feasibilities of various policy mechanisms and legal instruments can be made. However, this explosion of data does have a lasting impact on how individuals and organizations interact with each other, which might not always be reflected in the interpretation of raw data without a contextual understanding of the demographic.
I first talked about the competitive issues of big data at the 2013 IGF in Bali. In actual fact the competitive implications of a subset, utility customer information, were discussed back in 1992. But it was rare to think that there was anything to talk about other than privacy. Finally, the message seems to be getting through. The concern is that while data can give a business competitive advantage, unique treasure troves of data can provide one player with unique insight and, potentially that can be translated into market power.
It was expected. So I ignored the news that RCom and Sistema were in merger talks. What got my attention was the Aircel angle. People have been talking about collaboration between the Ambani brothers (Jio and RCom). Now that get’s real interesting.
It is quite intriguing how often moderators and many panelists default to a position that advocates government action and subsidies at the sessions I have heard so far. The evidence is clear on what worked and what did not with regard to first generation connectivity. Government supply failed. Government subsidies were not disbursed for the most part. The Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank was critical of the universal service initiatives supported and funded by the World Bank over 10 years.
No one yet knows the actual composition of the joint venture that will get the fourth license. But the results are already being felt. Starting this month, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the state-owned operator whose monopolistic rights ended last year, cut its Internet charges from 7 kyat (Bt0.21) per megabyte to 6 kyat. The short message fee was also reduced to 10 kyat, the lowest in the industry.