ITU


I was asked to participate in panel that posited a series of questionable propositions as its starting point. “Regulation was becoming less relevant; ITU had done a good job building regulatory capacity; now it needed to find new things to do” is a rough paraphrase. We have now fully emerged from an environment where service and carriage were tightly related, and where regulation was self-contained within a single organisation. New dimensions today include some where the ITU is a participating entity in a broader formal regulatory canvass, and some where facilitation relies on multi-stakeholder freewheeling market forces such as are associated with the Internet. This represents a challenging cultural change for the ITU to establish its active participating role.
An unexpectedly detailed description of our big data session was included in the Day 3 highlights: Big data is usually in the headlines for the wrong reasons – surveillance, exploitation of personal data for commercial or governmental ends, intrusion of privacy – but can also serve a valid and immensely exciting social purpose for development. Kicking off a fascinating, packed and highly-interactive session, moderator Rohan Samarajiva, Founding Chair and CEO, LIRNEasia, set out this contradiction in perception of big data as a “competition of imaginations” between hype and pessimism, reminding us that big data is “of interest to all of us, as we are the creators of this data, the originators of this data”. Our mobile telephones, and by extension we ourselves, are permanently in communication with the nearest towers, sending out details of our whereabouts and activities in an ever-growing, highly personal call record. This session aimed to “talk not about the imagination, but about what has been done”, exploring current and future trends in the use of big data for development.
So I have been invited to participate in the panel moderated by Tim Unwin that is described below. I did not use the session title, “balancing participation and facilitation” because that does not seem to correctly reflect the language in the descriptive paragraph below. We have now fully emerged from an environment where service and carriage were tightly related, and where regulation was self-contained within a single organisation. New dimensions today include some where the ITU is a participating entity in a broader formal regulatory canvass, and some where facilitation relies on multi-stakeholder freewheeling market forces such as are associated with the Internet. This represents a challenging cultural change for the ITU to establish its active participating role.
As I move from several productive conversations about big data for development in London to Doha where we will be exploring the potential of mobile network big data in the context of three presentations on research insights that have been drawn from big data, the question that preoccupies me is whether we can afford to let these data go waste, or be only used for narrow commercial ends. In economies with high consumer spending power there will be enough incentive to extract value from the data. But in our countries, where the dominant business model does not leave a lot of room for R&D, will we be left to mercy of off-the-shelf data analytics packages, if any?
Bangladesh has not done too well in the IDI rankings, but a Bangladesh newspaper has been fast off the mark. On a global ranking of ICT usage, Bangladesh falls at 145 among a total of 166 countries, according to the latest report published by the International Telecommunication Union today. In Measuring the Information Society (MIS) report, Bangladesh has also ranked at the 27th position among 29 nations in the Asia-Pacific region with an ICT development index (IDI) of 1.97 and Afghanistan being the lowest in the region with an IDI ranking of 1.67.
We deal with a subset of ASEAN countries, the most prosperous among them being Thailand. So I looked at the performance of the not-so-rich ASEAN in the ICT Development Index. Thailand has advanced from 91st place in 2012 to 81st in 2013. Very significant. Then comes Viet Nam (101; down two places from 2012), Philippines (103; down one place), Indonesia and Cambodia holding steady at 106 and 127, respectively; Laos, down four to 134; and sadly Myanmar at 150, two places down from the last place in the region it held in 2012 — 148.
Advocates of Internet’s freedom have overwhelmingly supported the U.S. government before WCIT 2012 in Dubai. Thereafter one obscure Mr. Snowden has narrowed, if not collapsed, the floodgate of support for America’s doctrine of Internet.
The ITU’s top officials get elected in a quadrennial event and the current one commences on October 20 at Busan. More than 3,000 government officials and 600,000 attendees from 193 countries are expected to visit. South Korean government is, however, worried about more than 170 delegates, including 107 Nigerians, from West Africa – the epicenter of Ebola outbreak. Seoul has, therefore, “politely” asked Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia not to participate in the ITU’s PP-14, said Wall Street Journal. ITU’s outgoing secretary-general Hamadoun Toure, who also hails from West Africa’s Mali, supports South Korea’s embargo.
Abu Saeed Khan, who has been leading our engagement with UN ESCAP on the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway will chair the below described session scheduled for Monday, December 08, 2014, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM, Hospitality Lounge 5: Many countries around the world lack affordable backhaul and cross-border networks that enable local networks to connect to the wider internet. There is still insufficient competition in some regions to facilitate competitive pricing and to allow for international Internet traffic backhaul. The availability of submarine fibre technology has brought prices down in coastal countries where competitive operators are able to bring this capacity to the market. The challenges can be greater for landlocked countries without co-operative neighbours for access to landing stations and other necessary infrastructure. There are also challenges in linking availablecapacity to internet exchange points (IXPs), either because they do not exist or because authorities impose restrictive regulation in areas such as gateways to international facilities, the use of alternative networks and dark fibre, or competitive backhaul from satellite and submarine-cable landing stations.
I have always been intrigued by the differences between South and South East Asian countries. We saw this over and over again when we did the Teleuse@BOP surveys. But playing around with some numbers for Facebook users in four South and four SE Asian countries, I was astounded. In all the SE Asian countries, there are more Facebook users than there are Internet users. In the case of Myanmar, the multiple is 4.
As far we knew, this number is collected on the basis of demand-side surveys. When such surveys were not available, “administrations” (Ministries or Regulatory Agencies tasked with the job) would submit estimates, based the number of subscriber and a multiplier. We’ve spent untold hours on the phone, trying to wheedle these numbers out. We even published a peer-reviewed article proposing an alternative (and, in our opinion, superior) method. But little did we (and the peer reviewers, and those collating the data at the ITU) know.
It started in Rohan Samarajiva’s room at  Islamabad Serena Hotel during April 2010. I explained him the fundamental barrier to affordable broadband across developing Asia. I also showed him the way to solve the problem – laying fiber along Asian Highway to build a transcontinental open access terrestrial network. Rohan was on board. He would later briefed ESCAP, the UN outfit that fosters Asian Highway.

Trust as the key ingredient

Posted by on November 25, 2013  /  0 Comments

Even when one disagrees with a speaker, one can learn from the engagement. I enjoyed myself at the talk given by Futurist Gerd Leonhard at ITU Telecom World, partly because I was actively engaging his stream of consciousness by tweeting. One thing I agreed fully with was his emphasis on trust: As the tweet said: “If you are in ICT Business & don’t have trust, you will be out of business in 5 yrs. Futurist at #ituworld” This caused me to dig through some old writing. Here is what wrote back in 1999 in a UNESCO publication: The overall environment of a society has an impact on how its members approach electronic commerce.
Not the most perfect summary, since I did the interview with half my mind on the need to get to the airport in time for my flight out.
Next week, Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan will be among the earliest speakers at ITU’s big tamasha, coming back to our part of the work after some time. In addition to Abu, who will discuss the work we are doing in partnership with UNESCAP to improve the resilience and reduce the costs of Asia’s international backhaul capacity, Reg Coutts, a member of the CPRsouth Board is also scheduled to speak. PSA1 : Riding the Data Wave Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013, 14:15 – 15:45, Jupiter 8 The plethora of new wireless devices reaching international markets is facilitating innovative business models but stressing the ability of fixed and mobile networks to keep pace. Wireless has for some time provided basic connectivity in Asia but the data storm that has hit European and North American markets will present new challenges to operators due to the shortage of high capacity back haul. ‘Front-hauling’ is one of the techniques that have been promoted as a solution but its use of scarce spectrum presents other difficulties.
I write this sitting in the office of the Pacific ICT Regulatory Resource Center. Thus the interest in Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). Going through the IDI rankings, I was sorry to see that only Fiji (rank 82); Tonga (rank 101) and Solomon Islands (rank 125) are included. Both Fiji and Solomon Islands have fallen back by one place, even though their scores have increased from 3.79 to 3.