In light of growing talk of a new divide that is emerging, this time a broadband divide, two indicators are beginning to assume greater importance: Internet users/100 and broadband subscriptions/100. Not all Internet users have Facebook accounts, but all Facebook users are, by definition, Internet users. Some people may have multiple Facebook accounts, but not as many as those who have multiple SIMs. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the number of a country’s Internet Users exceeds the number of Facebook accounts from that country. In October 2012, there were 1,448,160 Facebook accounts from Sri Lanka.
It was just two years ago that Bangladesh was elected to the Council of the International Telecommunication Union. One would think that Bangladesh would be treated with added respect as a result. However, it appears that it has been excluded from the ITU’s annual compilation of the ICT Development Index for 2012. It is not completely absent, being included in the comparisons of price baskets. But on the main index, it’s absent.
It is estimated that the world’s population went past the seven billion mark in 2011. Why do I use this cautious language? Sri Lanka just conducted a census and is looking for some half a million people that are short of the previous projections. So estimate we must. GSMA’s Mobile and Development Intelligence website estimates that the number of mobile SIMs went past the five billion mark, at end of 2011.
The Economist has a nice nuanced discussion on the above question, starting thus: DO DIGITAL economies grow faster than analogue ones? Rich-country leaders seem to think so. G7 and European Union governments are committed to a variety of digital stimulus packages; Australia, the biggest spender, has promised broadband investment of $33.4 billion (or 3% of GDP) to connect 90% of homes at ultra-fast speeds. “Digitisation” involves adopting technologies like wireless phones and internet access to generate, process and share information.
As a research organization we like data. We worry about the best indicators, for anything. For the longest time, per capita GDP has been the simplest, least-imperfect indicator of prosperity. It has many shortcomings, but the alternatives have more. The newest run at it zooms in on happiness.
According to a post by Ami, Sri Lanka has hit 11.8% internet penetration by December 2011, with an estimated 2.5 million Internet users. While the data correspond to International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data, Sri Lanka hit double digit internet penetration by December 2010 according to ITU, rather than December 2011 as mentioned by the author. Therefore, by now, the number of Internet users should be even higher.
We have yet to see the actual questions, but this is very satisfying news. If the questions are good, it justifies our continued engagement with National Statistical Organizations since 2006. If we are still working on indicators, we’ll do our best to spread the word on Sri Lankan good practice. Sri Lanka will collect information about areas like internet access in the first nation-wide household and population census to be conducted in over 30 years, an official said. The census which is to conducted from February 27 to March 21 will have 80,000 ‘enumerators’ visiting every house in the country to count the population and also questions about amenities in the house.
LIRNEasia has achieved a milestone in the Pacific Region by launching the office of the Pacific ICT Regulatory Resource Centre (PIRRC) on 10 November 2011 in Suva, Fiji. Earlier this year, LIRNEasia won the contract to establish the PIRRC with initial funding from World Bank and relocated its Senior Policy Fellow M. Aslam Hayat to act as PIRRC’s founder director. Permanent Secretary for Public Enterprises, Communications, Civil Aviation and Tourism Ms. Elizabeth Powell was the Chief Guest for officially opening of PIRRC.
Our good friend Nalaka Gunawardene has blogged about the difficulties of figuring out how many people are actually using the Internet in Sri Lanka. He shares our frustration with the archaic data reporting by the TRCSL. This produced a total of 2,184,018 — which takes the percentage of population to almost 11%. And if we apply the same average number of 3 users, it could give us 30% of population accessing and using the Internet. But is that assumption of 3 users per subscription equally applicable to mobile devices?
My colleague who made the previous post had neglected to look at the cause of the so-called spike in inactive SIMs. The cause is a change in definition, plain and simple. The market revaluation has been triggered by rule changes in the activity period allowed for prepaid users and the effect of mandatory SIM registration. Previously, users would see their services terminated if they had not recharged their prepaid cards or placed/received a call within a period of 180 days. In 2010, that period was reduced to 90 days and, recently, the TRAI has reportedly reduced the period to just 20 days.
One has to look to the business media for key broadband indicators in Sri Lanka. When one looks at the authoritative source, one does not see basic information such as how many fixed broadband connections have been given out, but nonsense such as “Internet and Email Subscribers.” What will it take for the TRC to report information based on the ITU’s definitions? Sri Lanka had 574,000 broadband customers by end December 2010, including 294,000 mobile broadband users. Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the country’s only wireline operator has been pushing ADSL (assymetrical digital subscriber line) aggressively since last year notching up 213,000 customers by end December.
LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow, Payal Malik, recently spoke the 2011 WSIS Forum, entitled, ‘Measuring the ICT sector for policy analysis‘ held on the 17th of May in Geneva. The session aimed to provide a brief overview of recent activities of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, including a progress report on e-government indicators. It also looked at the emerging issues to be included in its work agenda to advance ICT measurement. Payal presented her research on ICT Statistics in India for Policy Analysis. This research was carried out by Orbicom, UQAM, Montreal and funded by IDRC.
A news report indicates that lowering leased line prices (described as commercial broadband in the report has risen on the policy agenda in Sri Lanka. This is excellent news, though, of course, I would have preferred a story in the past tense: i.e., “domestic and international leased line prices have been reduced.” Present broadband charges which are higher than competitor countries are deterring foreign ICT and business process outsourcing (BPO) firms from setting up in the island and are partly responsible for poor internet penetration, a report said.
We talk of the cloud, but do we talk about the same thing? The Economist has a good piece on definitions and measurements. The “cloud of clouds” has three distinct layers. The outer one, called “software as a service” (SaaS, pronounced sarse), includes web-based applications such as Gmail, Google’s e-mail service, and Salesforce.com, which helps firms keep track of their customers.
To learn about the state of broadband in Sri Lanka, one has to rely on the media and on company releases, not the normal source which is the Ministry or regulatory agency. Today LBO carried the following story: Sri Lanka Telecom, the island’s largest fixed access operator said it had added 80,000 new broadband customers in 2010 and its base of 200,000 customers was 70 percent of the market. About 20 percent of the operator’s wireline customers were now using its ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) services, the telco said in a statement. From the above we can conclude that Sri Lanka has roughly 286,000 broadband subscriptions. We have no idea whether this number includes those using dongles, or simply those who subscribed to the “fixed wireless” options provided by LankaCom, Dialog etc.
The World Summit on the Information Society set several targets to be achieved by 2015 without specifying how they could be measured. The International Telecommunication Union has proposed four specific indicators that could measure progress made by countries toward the foundational Target 10, that of bringing ICTs within the reach of a majority of the world’s inhabitants. Two indicators are for mobile subscriptions and use, and two for Internet use by individuals and by households. Of the four, Indicators 1 and 3 currently exist, albeit with significant shortcomings. This paper proposes a modest improvement to the method of measuring Indicator 3, Internet users, which combines the existing supply-side data with available but incomplete demand-side data.