So there was this article in a Myanmar newspaper: Myanmar only has two undersea fibre-optic cables and two cross-border cables for its Internet traffic. By contrast regional leader Singapore has a total of 21 international fibre links, 15 of which are undersea and six cross-border. Malaysia has 17 links – 13 undersea and four cross-border; Thailand has 10 undersea and four cross-border; the Philippines has nine undersea and six cross-border; and Vietnam has five undersea and two cross-border cables. Cambodia lags behind with three undersea Internet fibre cables and one cross-border cable. In South Asia, Bangladesh has two undersea and two cross-border, while Sri Lanka has seven undersea and four cross-border cables.
Reading a story about how profitable DTAC in Thailand found the up to 5 million Myanmarese living in Thailand to be, I was reminded of what LIRNEasia-MIDO had submitted in response to the draft International Gateway regulations in January 2016. Imposing non-cost reflective termination rates for international incoming calls is counterproductive especially in the market conditions found in Myanmar where over 50 percent of the subscribers of major mobile network operators are daily data users. Most international communication will shift to “over-the-top” (so called OTT) services, accelerating the decline of the international communication services offered by fixed and mobile network operators. Toward the end of the story they do get to our point: DTAC’s main competition is arguably not other telecom operators but rather new technologies, which are making old-fashioned IDD calls an unnecessary expense. “Nowadays Burmese people in Thailand, whether they are migrant workers, activists or academics, are using less costly methods such as Facebook Messenger, Viber or LINE to communicate with friends and relatives in Burma,” said U Soe Aung, a long time Thailand resident and spokesman for the Forum for Democracy in Burma.
I was sending email to Sri Lanka from around 1991 through LAcNET, but many do not consider that real Internet because it was store-and-forward by Sanjiva Weerawarana at Purdue using MCI Friends and Family calling plans that we all contributed to. So after they officially launched in April 1995 and then finally got SLT to connect the wires properly on 11 May 1995, the first commercial and full-fledged (all of 64 kbps) Internet connection between Sri Lanka and the world had been activated. The organizers of the celebration, ISOC Sri Lanka, were kind enough to ask me to speak for 10 minutes. I figured others had a comparative advantage on history, and talked about what we needed to do to give our people an Internet worthy of the name where latency problems did not cause us to pull our hair out. The slideset.
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.
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.
LIRNEasia’s Senior Policy Fellow has been invited by the Department of Communication of South African government to speak at the “Workshop on Broadband Policy and Implementation in South Africa,” 11-12 November 2013, at CSIR Conference Center, Pretoria. He will speak on the “The Trans-Asian Terrestrial Broadband Link,” drawing on the work he has been doing as part of LIRNEasia’s partnership with UNESCAP.
Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan and I participated in the ESCAP consultation that sought input on three documents: a report on the state of optical-fiber-based connectivity in the ASEAN region, a new interactive map of international and domestic fiber cables in Asia and a report by LIRNEasia on resilience of ICT infrastructures. The agenda and links to presentations are here. Following revisions, our report too should be published.
Telegeography is a credible supplier of proprietary and expensive data on international bandwidth trends. What their latest report says is quite interesting: International bandwidth demand growth has been robust on all five of the world’s major submarine cable routes, but has been particularly rapid on key routes to emerging markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. While bandwidth demand on the trans-Atlantic route—which has long been the world’s highest-capacity route—increased at a healthy rate of 36 percent annually between 2007 and 2012, demand for bandwidth from the U.S. to Latin America grew 70 percent per year over the same period, and demand for capacity on the Europe-Asia route via Egypt grew a staggering 87 percent per year.
I spent more time than I had on working to fend off bad proposals to impose the sending party network pays principle on data as part of the revision of the International Telecom Regulations of the ITU. We succeeded, but I did not really think there were any winners in Dubai, really. Now that some time has passed, it is time for considered reflection. I spoke on this subject in Brussels in March, but the lecture that I gave in Bangalore to the Ford Foundation funded training course was perhaps the first time I tried to develop a full analysis. The work is not complete yet, but hopefully, I will get it into good form as a paper within a few months.
Mr Luigi Gambardella of ETNO responded to one of my tweets and asked me to relook at their proposal. I did (CWG-WCIT12/C-109 of 6 June 2012). On the face, it appears that they are concerned about broadband quality of service, a real problem that we have been working on since 2007. But then they go off the rails. The solution to QoS is supposedly treaty-level language mandating that “Member States shall facilitate the development of international IP interconnections providing both best effort delivery and end to end quality of service delivery,” and that “Operating Agencies shall endeavour to provide sufficient telecommunications facilities to meet requirements of and demand for international telecommunication services.
The awaited end of rapacious money making from international calls is nigh, according to Telegeography. International long distance traffic growth is slowing rapidly. According to new data from TeleGeography, international long distance traffic grew four percent in 2011, to 438 billion minutes. This growth rate was less than one-third of the industry’s long-run historical average of 13 percent annual growth. Because telcos must rely on strong volume growth to offset inevitable price declines, slowing traffic growth is making life ever more difficult for international service providers.
We were dragged into work on roaming by the SATRC. Our focus was on intra-SAARC call charges, but the then Chairman of SATRC, Mr Nripendra Mishra of TRAI wanted to act on both. So we started. We were more interested in intra-SAARC call charges because it affects more people, and more at the BOP. But looking at roaming prices, one cannot but be outraged.
That conventional voice traffic would decline on international routes was known (except to the people who came with elaborate schemes to control it). How fast was where the guessing was. Telegeography has some numbers: New data from TeleGeography show that growth in international call traffic has slumped while international traffic routed via Skype continues to accelerate. International phone traffic grew an estimated 4 percent in 2010, to 413 billion minutes, down from 5 percent growth in 2009, and a far cry from the 15 percent average growth rate achieved during the previous two decades. Where did the growth go?
For some time we have been talking about the scarcity and cost of international bandwidth. Looks like it is going to cost people in our part of the world access to sites such as Facebook and YouTube (full article). It appears that distance does matter. And everyone is not actually as close to everyone else as we were told. Of course, distance can be overcome, with money, not the user’s money but the money of the advertiser who believes that particular audiences are worth paying for.