Telecom


The Household Income and Expenditure Survey is an important report. The 2016 report is just out. The previous report (2012-13) found that 12.5 percent of Sri Lankan households lacked telephone service, fixed or mobile. By 2016, the phoneless households had declined to 8.
Understanding the Myanmar telecom environment with emphasis on users Phyu Phyu Thi Course on Regulatory Design and Practice Nay Pyi Taw, September 2017
Hearing the many reports on prosecutions under section 66(d) of the Law that was enacted in 2013, I went back to my files. In the extensive comments we provided there is nothing that refers to the offenses sections. The offenses chapter is peculiarly drafted. Section 65 is similar to what is found in any law that requires a license to be obtained for a specified activity. Section 67 is again a necessary section, specifying the penalty for using equipment without a license.
The first time this happened was when Pacific Century Cyber Works (PCCW), controlled by Richard Li, acquired Hong Kong Telecom. But that 2000 adventure did not end well. PCCW’s stock price tanked. Seventeen years later, things are different. The real story may not be a state-sanctioned infusion of private capital into a 100% state owned infrastructure company, but the first move by firms in the upper layers to take over entities in the infrastructure level.
Looking for something in my files, I found this conference paper that is almost 10 years old. The organizers pressured me to write it but then they did not keep their side of the bargain and publish the proceedings. It requires a few hours of work to make it up to date. The basic structure is fine, and could even be used to assess the WTO compliance of other countries that have made telecom commitments. Pity it never saw the light of day.
The introduction of GST to replace the patchwork of state taxes is perhaps the Modi government’s greatest economic achievement. The new regime is expected to come into effect on July 1, 2017. Like everything in India, it’s complicated, with multiple bands and exceptions. It’s interesting that the 18 percent GST rate for telecom services is being challenged on the basis that it is a necessity. Imposing 18 percent tax on telecom is likely to increase the overall tax burden and therefore may have a negative impact on the consumers’ expenses.
It’s not possible to give people what they want from ICTs (connectivity, quality, low price) without investment. So we are always happy when investment in telecom increases, especially in countries where the sector has been starved of investment for long like Myanmar. But we have to keep in mind that what the sector produces is not internationally tradeable (except for roaming services). The consumption occurs within the country. It contributes to the advancement of all other sectors, and thus indirectly to growing the entire economy including exports.
Last time the BJP was in power, Pramod Mahajan was Minister of Telecom. He listened to The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), a group of IT business people primarily of Indian origin based in the US and merged the DoT (in charge of telecom) and DEITy (in charge of IT). This was portrayed as a major step toward convergence. But the offices were separate, they had different secretaries, and different cultures. All that was common was the Minister.
The 80 percent and 160 percent increases in taxes on voice-SMS-VAS services and data, respectively, caused me to write an oped anchored on one instrument of public policy, use of fiscal means to discourage use of demerit goods. I wish to make clear that there is nothing wrong with subjecting telecom services to normal taxation such as VAT and NBT. Many years ago, that was the case. But over time various additional levies were layered on top, taking the overall tax burden to around 32%. Around 2009, the previous Government rationalised the mess, exempting telecom services from general taxation while imposing a single telecom levy.
The government-owned Sunday Observer has carried a story on the unraveling of the previous tax regime affecting telecom services that makes reference to the findings of our Systematic Reviews. “This will be the highest tax ever imposed on telecom users in the country. It is likely to reduce telecom use, especially of data. It is contrary to government policy seeking to encourage internet use,” Prof. Samarajiva said.
I was asked to comment to the state-owned Sunday Observer on the Sri Lanka government’s decision to extend value-added taxes to the telecom industry. Below is my response. I have always taken the position that telecom services should be treated no differently from other goods and services. Therefore, I do not object to making telecom services subject to VAT. The problem is with the approximately 25 percent mobile levy.
This report is the result of research conducted by GSMA’s Connected Women programme and LIRNEasia in Myanmar in 2015. LIRNEasia’s nationally representative baseline survey of ICT needs and usage in Myanmar showed a gender gap  in mobile ownership of 29%  by March 2015.  Together with GSM Association’s Connected Women program, LIRNEasia explored the reasons behind this gender gap through a series of in-depth interviews and focus group discussions held in Yangon (urban) and Pantanaw (rural) among 91 men and women in July 2015. Further questions on mobile internet awareness and use, as well as barriers to use were explored, yielding a rich set of findings and a large set of policy recommendations. Read full report: Mobile phones, internet, and gender in Myanmar
It will be a hard road for the fourth licensee, now that MPT, Telenor and Ooredoo have got a running start. The challenges of managing a large consortium will also be considerable. The newest tender winner will join an 11-company consortium comprising Myanmar Technologies and Investment Corporation, Myanmar ICT Development Corporation, Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation, Shwe Pyi Tagon Telecommunication Public Company, Golden Land East Asia Development, Myanmar Edible Oil Industrial Public Corporation, Myanmar Industries Alliance Public, Myanmar Agriculture and General Development Public, International Power Generation Public Company, Royal Yatanarpon Telecom Public Company and Mahar Yoma Public Company, the EOI document said. U Shane Thu Aung, director at Royal Yatanarpon Telecom (YTP), said the local consortium will be called Myanmar National Telecom Holding Public. The fourth licence will have an initial duration of 15 years, and will be renewable for at least 10 additional years, subject to compliance – the same terms as were granted to Telenor and Ooredoo Report.
I’ve always wondered what the attraction of national satellites is. Especially geo-stationary satellites for telecom. Below is the explanation I finally came up with and my suggestion of what is appropriate in this day and age. The excerpt is from a piece published in Pakistan and Sri Lanka a few months back. In the 1960s, massive antenna connected to a geostationary satellite provided a qualitatively superior solution for international backhaul over the extant methods of copper cables wrapped in gutta-percha or radio waves that bounced off the ionosphere.
The story in Live Mint starts with revenue shares. The Big Three (Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea) now have 70 percent of revenues. But what caught my eye was what was going on on the data side. Again the numbers can be used to illustrate this: As the uptake of data, the next growth driver for the industry, increases, the big three GSM incumbents are again poised to gain disproportionately. All three players have over 90% active customers, and also enjoy subscribers of higher quality, as reflected in their average monthly revenue per user numbers, which are higher than their peers in the industry.
The incredible growth of ICT in Myanmar has been enabled by massive investments, business models and managerial skills. Yet, it appears that FDI in the sector is still not the largest. This is a good sign for the balanced development of the Myanmar economy. In the first five months of the 2014-15 fiscal year, telecoms accounted for 31 percent of total FDI of $3.32 billion, becoming the biggest single component in direct capital inflows, according to data issued by the Myanmar Investment Commission.