Policy


Earlier in October I had the pleasure of moderating a high-powered panel on ICTs and SDGs at the Annual Conference of the International Institute of Communications in Bangkok. The video of the session is below. The Video of Session 2 (58 minutes).
IIC is an organization that provides a platform for discussion of ICT policy and regulation with a specialized focus. They are spending a week in our neck of the woods, Bangkok. The main conference will be on October 12-13. Here are the two sessions I am participating in on Day 1. SESSION 2: LINKING ICT POLICY AND REGULATION WITH SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH – WHAT MUST BE DONE DIFFERENTLY TO ALLEVIATE OBSTACLES TO UNIVERSAL CONNECTIVITY AND ACCESSIBILITY?
The sixth iteration of the Ford Foundation supported course on how to engage in broadband policy and regulatory processes commenced today at IIT Delhi. An interesting mix of participants has been assembled by Dr Vignesh Illavarasan who is directing the course. He has also assembled a stellar cast of speakers, with perhaps the best gender balance we have achieved in this course. The assignment is a central element of the course. It allows the participants to apply the knowledge gathered in the course to a practical problem.
I am speaking on a big data panel at the 21st ITS Biennial Conference in Taipei, described below: If Big Data can open up opportunities at the same time it raises serious policy issues. Big Data raises concerns about the protection of privacy and other values and may drive a rethink of traditional approaches to data governance: a shift from trying to control the data itself to focusing on the uses of data. Prevalent data standard protection may have become higher as legal standard may be inadequate. Openness of the data and data ownership are pending issues. Besides, the rise of the “Data Barons” is triggering market concentration and data oligopolies issues: “Dark Side of market concentration and data oligopolies.
MIDO and LIRNEasia offered a one day program that addressed issues of telecom and Internet policy and regulation, along with e government and social media in Yangon to around 20 legislators from the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament. The slides used are given below: What is the significance of ICTs to legislators?: Rohan Samarajiva What to people in Myanmar do with ICTs? Results of field research: Helani Galpaya Legislation, policies, plans, strategies, regulation: Rohan Samarajiva What is independent regulation? Why is it needed?
I was given the task of talking about policy challenges to using mobile communication advancing socio-economic development in the ASEAN, at the research meeting on mobile communication in the ASEAN at the LKY School. Given the tremendous heterogeneity within ASEAN (ranging from Singapore to Myanmar) I decided it would be more useful to do a deep dive into one ASEAN country, rather than skate over the lot. Also, given the peculiar state of the “single market” in the ASEAN where policy and regulation are not in any way harmonized, a pan-ASEAN discussion would result in a load of platitudes. So I talked about the policy challenges in Myanmar. In the slides I presented data from the 2015 baseline survey to address what socio-economic development effects would be like.
The four-day course on how to engage in broadband policy and regulation included as one of its most important elements a team project. Each team was asked to make evidence-based presentations that we hoped would form the basis for a public consultation organized by the Ministry of Telecom and Digital Infrastructure. The teams were assigned different aspects: 1. Affordable broadband of adequate quality throughout Sri Lanka 2. Services and applications that are of value to Sri Lankan users 3.
I was recently asked to justify my claim that the big data debate should not be reduced to a “competition of imaginations” between hype and pessimism. The future is unknowable, so we have little alternative but to use our imaginations to discuss the future. We can extrapolate from what is known which is better than pure scenarios, but even this is not perfect. What happened yesterday need not happen tomorrow and what happened in one country under specfic conditions may not be replicated in other circumstances.inning But that is still better than scenario spinning.
In 1998, I was in the middle of an intense interconnection fight. It was worse than zero-sum. The Japanese incumbent telco which had purchased 35% of the shares of the Lankan incumbent telco had created a mindset that was extremely hostile to the competitive fixed telcos the government had licensed a year back. Interconnection disputes, where one party’s gain is seen as the other’s loss, are inherently difficult to resolve using even the best mediation techniques because of this. But in 1998 Sri Lanka, the problem was exacerbated by the desire of the incumbent and its Japanese mamagement to demote the parties requesting interconnection from equals to subordinate agents.
Parvez Iftikhar will be amused that I am proposing a fund, after objecting to his favorite Universal Service Fund. But that is how the policy game gets played. We look at something that does not work at all or produces more bad outcomes than good (government-owned telcos with universal service obligations in the old days; government-owned media organizations now) and propose a solution that will reduce the harm (universal service fund for telecom; public media content fund for media). Then we see how the solution works and propose sunsetting it or shutting it down if it has been hijacked by nefarious interests. Deng Xiao Ping called this crossing the river by feeling the stones.
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.
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.
This op-ed article contributed by a LIRNEasia associate, places more emphasis than we would on fixed wireless as a means for achieving broadband in Indonesia. This could possibly be because the author is immersed in European policy thinking, having been educated in Sweden and now working for the EU in Spain. But nevertheless it is a valuable contribution to policy discourse. And it comes at the right time, just as President Jokowi gets to work. The background document, funded under a Ford Foundation project, is here.
Setting the Scene Focus Session – Tuesday, September 2 • 11:00am – 12:30pm Sub-themes for IGF 2014 a) POLICIES ENABLING ACCESS Speaker: Rohan Samarajiva, LirneAsia, Sri Lanka Rohan will provide a bird’s eye view on progress and challenges in achieving affordable access for all. He will highlight controversial issues that came up in the last year, such as:  net neutrality  role of governments and regulators vs role of markets: are we getting the balance right so that the benefits get to those who need it most?  access for all: public access, access for the poorest of the poor, access for people with disability Virat Bhatia will provide a review of how the topic will be discussed at the IGF 2014 at workshops and in the ‘access’ main session. Policies Enabling Access, Growth and Development on the Internet, Main session –Wednesday, September 3, 0930-1200 Here, Rohan Samarajiva will speak on policies conducive to Internet use. Workshop No.

Digital India

Posted by on June 10, 2014  /  0 Comments

The policy statement of the new government headed by Narendra Modi promises to continue the NOFN initiative. It makes specific mention of the use of social media for more closely engaging the people. 22. E-governance brings empowerment, equity and efficiency. It has the power to transform peoples’ lives.
Following on from the previous post re Bangladesh making do with an obsolete national telecom policy from 1998, I’ve been asked why we need policies, when in my time in government in Sri Lanka first as a regulator and then handling policy, I had not done much about Sri Lanka’s own obsolete policy (a couple of sheets of paper from 1994). A national policy provides a framework for decision making. A national telecommunications policy lays down basic principles to guide decisions of all relevant government agencies (not limited to the Ministry in charge of the subject) and other stakeholders, including service providers, investors, and even consumer organizations, which makes stakeholder input vital for its formulation. Not just the end result, but the process is also important. One needs stakeholder input; one also needs stakeholders to own the policy.
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