Colloquium on “Bridging the Divide: Building Asia-Pacific Capacity for Effective Reforms”

Posted on August 10, 2006  /  0 Comments

Bridging the digital divide is important. It may not be as important as ensuring safe water for all, or adequate healthcare, in terms of meriting investment of scarce public resources, but it is definitely important enough to merit concerted action to remove the artificial barriers to private supply. One of the best ways this can be done is by improving the knowledge that is brought to bear on the process.
The optimal way to achieve this is to create an environment within which international best practices are adapted to local circumstances by in-situ policy intellectuals. Some of these local experts could be in regulatory agencies and in government; but the optimal results will be achieved through participatory processes where all stakeholders, including the consumers are represented by knowledgeable experts.

Discussion of the paper to be presented by Rohan Samarajiva at the Digital Opportunity Forum, South Korea on August 30, 2006.

Stunning difference between fixed and mobile phone densities in the two parts of Asia (developed – HK, China, Taiwan, Singapore Australia and Korea, developing – Nepal, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and Myanmar). Developed countries have large telephone densities, whereas the developing countries have minute densities in comparison.

Looking at Sri Lanka, the Norther province has come up fast, in terms of telecom access (19% have access to telephones in the NP).

So there is a divide, but do we really need to promote ICTs? If it comes to spending taxpayer money, promotion of ICTs is not necessary, because there are more important needs like water, etc. But if it is to remove barriers to participation, then yes there is a need to promote ICTs.

How to reduce constraints? Liberalization through explicit regulatory regime, relaxation of entry controls and internal reform of incumbent or major operator.

Expansion of telecom in USA after breaking up of Bell monopoly (1892-1900) is parallell to that in SL when telecom was liberalised (1991-1999).

DG – Need to look at fixed & mobile separately to see whether it is fixed or mobile that has contributed to to the growth (slide # 8 )

In the Western Province, each new connection that is purchased provides a supplementary connection (i.e. to those that already have access to a phone). Whereas in the North-east for example, each new connection may connect an entire household, which was previously unconnected.

Bottom line: liberalisation narrows the gaps.

Difference between big-bang reforms and continuing reforms
Big bang reforms include privatization, licensing a second operator, etc; Continuing reforms include enforcing interconnection, etc.

Big bang reforms and continuing reforms both require in-situ expertise, latter more than former. Need the capacity to maintain the momentum of reforms. Some countries (eg Bahrain, UK) advertise internationally for the top job. Advantage is credibility and independence, because the individual is not part of the local ‘networks’.

Narrow conception – Expertise in government and national regulatory agency
Broad conception – Expertise in government and NRA + with all stakeholders, including consumer and civil society groups

Why in-situ expertise?
These people have tacit knowledge, enjoy a legitimacy that external consultants do not, are able to participate in the policy process betterthan external consultants, etc.

So how do we produce new experts?
Scholars without visibility and reinforcement (other scholars interested in the same issues in their country, or simple someone to bounce ideas off) alone cannot catalyze change.

CPRsouth, LIRNEasia’s capacity initiative, aims to identify scholars with likelihood of becoming in-situ experts, assists them to raise their Internet profiles, etc.

Ismail: Some of the problems the FCC has had with academics, is the time frames that they work with.

CPRsouth will carry out a knowledge mapping using ISI journals, citations, Scholar.Google, interviews, etc in order to identify young scholars interested in policy and regulation.

A conference will be held early next year, in addition to the development of a digital repository for archiving communication policy research, to promote CPR research.

Qualities of in-situ expertise
Just-in-time learning and Open-source research

JIT learning involves broad expertise with boundaries defined. With a knowledge of underlying theoretical issues, a network of research relationships, and the internet, JIT learning is a effective concept.

Open-source research follows the open-source software premise, which means that anyone has access to the source and can make changes, etc. Where policy research is concerned, speed is crucial. LIRNEasia puts research on the web in draft form and asks people to look at it, comment on it,and make suggestions, all in order to improve these drafts and work towards a final document. This ensures better output at the end of the day.

So the whole CPRsouth exercise is about narrowing the digital divide through the development of capacity. The gap can be bridged by removing policy-regulatory constraints and what better way to do this than building local, in-situ expertise.

DG – There’s a big gap between the divide that exists within the sector and the gap in capacity. The link between the two is not persuasive enough.
RS – Yes there is a gap, but the point is, that throwing money at it won’t work. You have to knock down the barriers and create a conducive environment to allow the sector to grow.

DG – In the Indonesian leased line case, they didn’t even know what other people in other countries were paying for this service.
RS – How is that different to each other? Private sector is relatively underdeveloped, in the Indonesian case, so it is a case of lack of expertise (capacity gap).

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