below is the long version of the pitch we made to the Stockholm Internet Forum. Hopefully, it will gain enough votes to be included. Billions are yet to be connected to the Internet. Some lessons can be drawn from the case of the previous success story of connecting billions to voice telephony. For example, from experience with industry-specific taxes and universal service funds we have a much better understanding of how taxes and subsidies are likely to affect access to and affordability of Internet.
CEO Helani Galpaya was invited as an expert participant at the UN-DESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) and ITU (International Telecommunications Union) organised Expert Group Meeting held at UN headquarters in New York, June 8 – 9th. Helani was invited to talk about issues of access and affordability, and how they contribute towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). LIRNEasia and RIA household survey data, LIRNEasia’s broadband quality of service test data, big data research was used in the presentations and interventions during the two day meeting. Slides here. Numerous UN Agencies, members of Permanent Missions to the UN from various countries (e.
Christoph Stork and Alison Gillwald have been engaged with the real-world problem of high mobile termination rates in Southern Africa for several years. Perhaps the earliest intervention was with the Namibian Communication Commission in 2009. Then there were repeated engagements in South Africa. We know, from our experience, that policy engagement does not leave a lot of time for academic publication. But it’s not that our colleagues did not try to publish in academic journals.
I keep being asked by journalists why well-meaning people like ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure are supporting the “access charge” proposals, that are warmed over ETNO rejects. I really do not know. I can only speculate. It may be that he has spent too much time in the rarefied climes of Geneva talking to CEOs of European telecom operators and participating in their “Twitter Storms,” and not enough looking at research on what is actually driving Internet use among the poor in his continent and mine. My colleague Alison Gillwald heads RIA which conducts such research.
Our sister organization RIA has been pushing hard for lower termination rates in South Africa. Now in the context of a retail price war, a small operator has joined the call. This nicely refutes the claim that mobile termination rates have nothing to do with retail prices. In a move that will no doubt irk MTN and Vodacom, Knott-Craig says he wants the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to drop the rates even further beyond the 40c/minute they will reach in March 2013. “To Icasa, I say: ‘Drop mobile termination rates even further, provide Cell C with asymmetrical rates to help us achieve the scalability we need to compete even more fiercely with the large incumbents, and we will surprise you and them with our response.
Our sister organization Research ICT Africa has issued an interesting document called mythbuster on the contentious issues of high mobile termination charges and their contribution to giving South Africa mobile prices that are three times those of neighboring Namibia. More strength to your arm RIA. Mythbuster is a great idea. We should see if we can do one soon.
The quote below comes from one of many media reports that carried the results of RIA benchmarking of mobile prices across Africa. SA’s prepaid cellphone pricing is three times more expensive than Namibia’s, making SA among the most expensive countries in Africa despite an intervention to regulate the tariffs, according to a study released this week by Research ICT Africa. The research found that among 46 African countries studied, SA ranks 30th in affordability of prepaid mobile telephony. This places SA behind countries whose regulators have enabled competition by enforcing cost-based mobile termination rates. Kenya, Mauritius, Egypt and Namibia were found to be the most affordable.
According to the Nokia Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) study 2011, Ethiopia’s mobile prices bring it to the very threshold of membership in the “Under USD 5 club” of 11 countries. The TCO in Ethiopia in 2010 was USD 5.02. This is a puzzle and appeared to pose a challenge to the entire explanation of the conditions for the emergence of the BTN business model. Because Ethiopia is a member of another exalted “club,” the “bottom-ten” in terms of mobile connectivity.
I’ve been thinking about m applications for two full days. Not the normal crowd I hang with, regulators, ministry officials, operators; but people who are starting new companies and various people helping them. People working on energy startups, agri-market incubators, and, yes, also ICT entrepreneurs. Two ideas that came up: Most people who think about m apps are still stuck on the Apple App Store. Great model but requires two things LIRNEasia’s people (BOP in emerging Asia) do not have at the present time: smartphones and credit cards to make payments from.
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.
Bangladesh is currently conducting a public consultation on proposed Significant Market Power regulation. The recommendations made by an ITU consultant proposes Significant Market Power (SMP) regulation. This is not something many regulators in our region have focused on, at least not recently (though very light flavors of SMP determinations can be found in some countries such as Pakistan). So we sought the help of our sister research network RIA. Using the recent experience of South Africa in using SMP in regulation (and contrasting with Namibia and Botswana which do not use SMP), Allison Gillwald of RIA gave us useful input on the pros and cons of the approach.
Rohan Samarajiva represented LIRNEasia at the Research ICT Africa (RIA!), Annual Meeting held recently in Dakar, Senegal with a view to contribute to the discussion on Telecom Regulatory Environment (TRE) assessment that RIA! is planning to undertake. The five-day workshop held from May 26-June 2, 2006, focused on three areas: the 2006 RIA! research agenda, outcomes mapping and RIA!