There was a time when oil and gas attracted the most FDI in Myanmar. This is FDI that results in greater exports by enabling the unlocking of the resources under the ground and the waters of Myanmar. One can debate how much of the risk is borne by whom and whether the returns are proportional to risk. But generally, greater FDI in the energy sector is a good thing for a country like Myanmar, seeking to move out of least-developed-country status. The fact that telecom is the biggest attractor of FDI in a country so rich in resources is not something to be celebrated.
I keep telling people that I (and the people associated with reforms in South Asia in the late 1990s) had no expectation that we would achieve the levels of voice and data connectivity that we have now achieved. But here is the proof, from a piece I gave to UNESCO while still Director General of Telecommunications back in 1999. In most countries of the South, basic telecommunication connectivity is still a distant goal, leave alone the advanced Internet infrastructure that provides the basis for electronic commerce. Electronic transactions between companies and organizations, particularly those involved in worldwide commercial relationships, do take place within the context of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). However, these closed user systems do not fall within the commonly understood meaning of electronic commerce that involves transactions with consumers in an open system such as the Internet.
We’ve been talking about inclusive development for some time now. Here, our friend W.A. Wijewardene, defines inclusive development and distinguishes it from pro-poor actions. The Commission he refers to is the Commission on Growth and Development chaired by Micheal Spence, whose work has influenced ours in many ways.
LIRNEasia has been privileged to work with Research ICT Africa over the past six years. We share resources and knowledge with them on the demand-side survey with their senior Researcher serving as our statistical consultant. They have adapted our Telecom Regulatory Environment instrument and we use their Sector Performance Review template. The training course that we used to teach in Singapore was shifted to Cape Town in light of RIA’s ability to offer it with the imprimatur of a world-class university. So it was with pleasure that I accepted the invitation to brief the South African Minister of Communication along with RIA’s Executive Director.
While voice revenues are declining, it appears that broadband will save the day. But only the day. The theoretical maximum of ADSL connections is 869,190 at this time in Sri Lanka. Many of the fixed lines cannot be used to supply ADSL or are connected to government departments, pensioner’s homes, etc. which may not want broadband, so the actual market size is lower.
Coming from Sri Lanka, a country that endured a thirty-year war, this is nothing new. But it appears that the same issues keep coming up, and we keep making the same mistakes. Pakistan shut down mobile phones for elections. There were serious discussions in Sri Lanka about disabling mobiles within a certain distance from army camps, which meant that pretty much all of Colombo would have been a dead zone for mobiles. Now India wants the ability to listen into every conversation/text/email exchange on every Blackberry in their territory.