universal access


One of the advantages Myanmar has in telecom is that it can learn from the experience of others, including countries that are/were similarly situated. This was the central proposition I advanced in my first piece on Myanmar telecom reforms, published in 2012 in Myanmar. Keeping to that theme, I spoke on what can be learned from the experience of others in designing and implementing universal service/access policies at a workshop organized by the Alliance for Affordable Internet on 27th July 2015 in Yangon. Presentation slides
The World Bank has committed USD 2.6 million (or USD 10 per intended beneficiary) in grant funds for rural public access telephones in Cambodia according to a recent news release. The amount is not too steep and the local official in charge is Deputy Minister Chin Bunsean, an alumnus of LIRNEasia’s regulatory training course in 2005 (Mr Chin is dead center of the picture on the course page), which among other things discussed the lessons that should be drawn from the Nepal output-based aid project, so I guess we can surmise that the lessons have indeed been learned. But it still makes us wonder why the World Bank is funding rural payphones, when the evidence is abundant that cheap mobiles are what will connect poor people, not payphones? Poor families in four of the poorer provinces of northern and northwestern Cambodia – Banteay Meanchey, Otdar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, and Pursat – will benefit from a US$2.
An article entitled, ‘Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Beyond Universal Access’, co-authored by Harsha de Silva and Ayesha Zainudeen, has been published in Telektronikk, a leading telecommunications journal, published by Telenor, Norway. Appearing in the journal’s second issue for 2008, aptly titled, ‘Emerging Markets in Telecommunications’, the article explores the extent to which “universal access” to telecommunications has been achieved  in Asia, based on findings from LIRNEasia’s five-country study of the use of telecommunication services at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’, namely in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Very high levels of access, but low levels of ownership are found. The paper then looks at the potential benefits that these non-owner users are missing out on, and then goes on to look at the key barriers to ownership that are faced by them. The paper estimates that there could be close to 150 million new subscribers at the BOP in these five countries by mid-2008.
I had the opportunity of chairing a panel of seven persons from various parts of Asia at the Forum at ITU Telecom Asia 2008 in Bangkok.  After we got around the inane title of Manga for the masses, we had a decent discussion, focussing on the aspects of connecting the unconnected, assuring adequate quality to the connected, and content.   My overview slides setting the frame are here. Contrary to expectation, the Chairman of the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission, representing perhaps one of the least connected of the countries of Asia, talked about using universal service funds to develop content.   Several people referred to the counter-productive nature of universal service taxes, wherein poor people were being taxed to provide services to poor people, yet those taxes were not being utilized, wisely or otherwise.