Sri Lanka: President uses SMS to wish mobile users: Why not Cell Broadcasting?

Posted on January 1, 2010  /  39 Comments

At least some have first assumed it a practical joke, but Daily Mirror online confirmed President did send a New Year wish to all mobile users today. Using romanised Sinhala President wrote “Kiwu paridi obata NIDAHAS, NIVAHAL RATAK laba dunnemi. Idiri anagathaya sarwapparakarayenma Wasanawantha Wewa! SUBA NAWA WASARAK WEWA! Mahinda Rajapaksa” (As promised I delivered you an independent and free country. May your future be a success. Happy New Year!)

At the cost of LKR 1 per SMS message, this might have cost approximately USD 150,000 – equivalent to publishing roughly 75 full-page colour advertisements in national newspapers.

Sender’s number was hidden so the millions of mobile users, now constitute at least half of the population, could not return the greetings.

Had Cell Broadcasting (CB) been available in Sri Lanka, President would not have to use SMS – which is relatively too cumbersome for both the sender and receiver. CB would have been more economical too. Given that it uses a different band and sends messages together, it wouldn’t have congested the networks and the cost would have been certainly less than USD 150,000. As CB, unlike SMS differentiates users President could have even used a romanised Tamil message in Northern Province.

LIRNEasia have been a promoter of CB – mainly for, but not limited to early warning. It can be used effectively for other commercial and non commercial messages. Rohan Samarajiva highlighted some of its advantages over SMS in his short presentation in ‘Beyond the typical Early Warning Systems’ session at LIRNEasia at 5 conference. Download the presentation slides for more details.


  1. What makes you think he paid for it? :)

  2. So Stupid! Where is the Democracy??? How can our people (who does n’t interesting in him and political stuffs)can unsubscribe from those stupid things???
    Why they acts so selfish???

    By other way,
    I wishes my followers, members and friends in social networks from anywhere (even not at home), I always remember to greeting by Sinhala, Tamil, English, (and sometimes French too). But why did Our President forgot to do that?
    Why was it sent with sinhala and English greeting? (Western aka Anti-Sinhala as Hela Urumaya distributes). No Tamil or Tamil people does n’t use phones then???

  3. Even if he paid for it, the cost wouldn’t be 1 rupee per message. Considering that this is a presidential message, not an electoral one, I don’t think he should have to pay for it anyway. It’s not like it costs the phone companies anything to send a message.

  4. PLAIN ANNOYING on New year’s day. Ditto to the message from Dalada Maligawa.

  5. Did anyone pay for this SMS message sent from the President’s office, and if so, how much of our money was used? In the context of the upcoming elections, was the option of sending a New Year’s greeting open to all candidates and not just the incumbent? How does one opt out from getting these messages, which for some is the equivalent of email spam? What right do mobile phone companies have to give out or use my mobile number, without prior permission, for partisan campaigns such as this?

  6. Here is what I sent the Sunday Times from Bangkok. Hope they will carry it:

    No spam text please

    Rohan Samarajiva

    Susanthika gets an early morning call from the President to wish her happy birthday. She wants to run for Parliament. I get spam SMS from the President late on the morning of the 1st of January. I want to complain to my service provider and the regulator about the misuse of my time, money and phone number.

    I do not recall giving my number to the President or to his reelection campaign. I have definitely not given permission to my service provider to give my number to the President. But I have to spend time and effort to open the damn thing, read it and delete it. And since I was out of the country when the SMS reached me, I have to pay roaming charges for receiving spam SMS.

    I do not want to start the New Year on a sour note. And after all, this is top-quality spam from the first citizen. So this one is forgiven. But Mr President, Mr Service Provider: please don’t do this again. My mobile number is mine; as is my time. Only people who I have given my number to can call/text me.

    If this is repeated, I will complain to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of a violation of section 59 of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act, No. 25 of 1991 as amended. That’s for starters. Maybe fundamental rights too. And this applies to all political candidates, not just the President.

    Now, one can ask, does this mean that no political campaign can use the almost ubiquitous mobile phone to communicate to supporters or to solicit support? Am I being unreasonable? Political parties run ads on TV, radio and newspapers; send mass emails. Why not mass SMS or calls on mobile phones?

    I do not pay for the TV and radio content and I understand that I pay only part of the cost of the newspapers that I read. Part of the bargain with the people who provide me this content is that they are free to run advertising; I am free to look/listen.

    But it is different with mobile phones (even more than with fixed phones, though the argument applies to both). The mobile is the most personal of all communication technologies. It rings and I am compelled to answer. I have no alternative but to spend time looking at and then deleting spam, or refusing to accept campaign calls. Unauthorized use of my number eats up what I value the most: my time and attention. It intrudes on my personal space more rudely than a Godzilla cut out by the roadside. In the case of people like me, who receive spam while abroad, it also eats up their money.

    There is a middle ground between everybody getting spammed by political candidates and absolute prohibition. Political campaigns have plenty of money (I assume someone paid for this mass SMS campaign; and it was not a “voluntary” donation from my money-losing service provider). Use that money and advertise a number that we can call/SMS to register our willingness to receive birthday calls/texts, new year texts, happy eid calls, happy deepavali texts, etc..

    Citizens can also register to learn about the next dansala they may attend; or they can even learn how to gain some merit by donating for the supply of free food and booze. No reason to limit to SMS. Why not USSD? Campaigns can lease entire cell broadcasting channels (there are 60,000 plus).

    This is how things should be done. Use my number, my time and my money, but have the decency to ask first.

    And by the way, Mr President, have a good year.

    1. go to hell moda proff

      1. Jayadeva Deshabhimanya

        gg’s comment is typical of callous attitudes of some Sri Lankans – before asking the Professor to go to hell, please tell WHY you are so asking. Otherwise, all you’re doing is making it clear to the public that it is YOU who should go to hell, or be taken to hell by force.

        Jayawewa! Obata Suba…anagathayak!

    2. Pro-UNPers hate President’s message. all the newspapers, Radio, TV published President’s, Prime Minister’s and Opposition Leader’s new year message free of charge. so, why not mobile operators? internet and mobile phones are new way of communications PROF

  7. @Rohan Samarajiva,

    How do you know it was spam? Couldn’t that be his personal greeting for you on the New Year?

  8. The president will lose a good 100,000 votes by this stupid move. who is giving him advice these days? surely a plant by ranil is giving him misleading advice like this.

  9. Er…seriously? Only those you have given your phone number to can send you an SMS or call you? Ever filled out a form that required you to insert your number here or there? Was any of them a government form? Perhaps with a clause that said the government could get in touch with you…? Could the New Year’s message have been a tactic the government decided to use, through citizen number one, to create a nice warm mood of oneness?

  10. I am sure President himself typed that message because there is a typo in his name.

  11. This post is pretty lame. An old professor trying to seem hip by writing about SMS mannerism. Yawn.

    Claims are fundementally flawed with wrong estimates of possible spend and the media coverage equivalant of it. Besides this is just trolling on a new year, sadly so by a few learned scholars. Wow.. what a way to start my new year blogging psychotica, no lirneasia pundits?

    Chanuka, polite request. educate yourself. learn to count 1,2,3,4.. You are apparently weak in mathematics.

    Rohan, grow up. Its never too late for the finer things in life. Sanity is a wonderful thing when you receive it past retirement age.

    Suba nawa wasarak wewa :)

    1. SMS wisdom is surely lame. Don’t get upset by these hooligans Professor, “SMS wisdom” is yet another bastard that mother lanka has produced (just like their masters).

  12. The partisans of the President should understand that this is the thin end of the wedge. The issue is larger than whether you’re for the President or not.

    If this is not stopped now, our phones will be awash in spam. India has already set up a National Do Not Call Registry and established policy guidelines Not working perfectly, but at least they have started.

    Is it too much to ask the TRC to act?

  13. @SMS Wisdom,

    Both you and my good friend who write Groundviews ( had apparently overlooked the tax component!

    Do you suggest that President didn’t pay tax?

  14. Dear Mr Samarajeewa,

    Why we don’t have a “DO NOT CALL” registry? In europe there are advertisement, address, mail protection for citizens.

    I feel like violated :-)

  15. I called Dialog customer service the message from the President in the morning wishing us all a happy new year and this is how the conversation went.

    Me: Hi, I’m calling about the text message I got from the President wishing me for the New Year?

    Dialog: Yes sir. When did you get this message?

    Me: Just now.

    Dialog: Okay?

    Me: Can I know if I can unsubscribe from the President sending me messages? Cos I don’t really like him.

    Dialog: Just let me check sir. Would you mind being on line for a moment?

    Me: Not al all.

    [Puts me on hold]

    Dialog: Thank you for being on hold sir. I’m sorry, but that was sent from the President, and you can’t unsubscribe sir,

    Me: But see, the thing is, I haven’t subscribed to it, and I haven’t given him my number. So technically it’s spam no? And I don’t like getting messages from him, so I want to stop getting them in the future.

    Dialog: I’m sorry sir, but that was sent from the President, and we don’t have a choice.

    Me: So that means whenever His Excellency or his Government sends a message to you guys and ask you to send it to me? You would just send it?

    Dialog: Yes sir.

    Me: And you can’t stop that?

    Dialog: No sir. It’s the President.

    Me: Right. Thank you.

    Dialog: Thank you for calling Dialog sir. Wish you a very happy new year, and have a nice day.

    Me: Likewise.

    So, the President just spammed me, and there is nothing I can do about it. I’ll quote something a friend said on her facebook status recently “There is someone up their watching us. Unfortunately, it’s the Government”

    In this case it would be “There is someone out there who is talking to us. Unfortunately, it’s the President”

    Great start to a new year, that was. Wish I could reply to him and tell him to sod.

  16. Another experience of writing to a mobile service provider asking to bar messages of this nature in the future –

  17. My comments above were based on the assumption that the President’s campaign had paid for the spam text. I now understand that the Telecom Regulatory Commission had directed the telecom operators to send out the spam message without charging a fee.

    This is an egregious violation of election law and ultra vires the provisions of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act. Ordering the free-of-charge dissemination of election propaganda does not fall within the scope of directions that may be given under section 5(f).

    My colleague Chanuka Wattegama has calculated the approximate cost of the spam SMS. The Elections Commissioner should be petitioned to (a) ensure that the campaign pays for the services that have been rendered; and (b) order the TRC to desist from abuse of authority. In the same way it has ordered remedial action with regard to abuse of state media, action may be ordered to remedy the harm done to the other candidates.

    I was thinking that a ruling against spam could be sought from the TRC. Now it appears that we will have to take the TRC to court instead. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or, “wetath niyarath goyam ka nam, kata kiyannada me avanaduva?

  18. Hi Chanuka,

    I wonder if your article, in primarily highlighting the economics and efficiency of CB vs. SMS, glosses over the more pernicious and illegal nature of this SMS as brought out by Rohan here, and in other web fora including Groundviews?

    I doubt very much that when you say “LIRNEasia have been a promoter of CB – mainly for, but not limited to early warning. It can be used effectively for other commercial and non commercial messages” you are suggesting that CB is used to disseminate propaganda and partisan drivel to hapless customers!


  19. @Sanjana,

    Most of the Cell Broadcasting channels can be controlled by the end user. She has an option of blocking. *If the users wish* I have no objections President sending them 10 messages per day. May be good for their egos.

    The ‘open’ channels are restricted for special uses like early warning. It is a different question if President tries to piggyback on them, but I am optimistic things will not be that bad.

    The other advantages are:

    1. CB will not congest networks
    2. Other candidates too may have the same opportunity.
    3. Messages are short (93 characters max, if I remember correctly) so will waste less time

    1. Messages are short (93 characters) but they can be concatenated, meaning that messages can be appended to one another up to 15 times. Therefore, they COULD be longer, but Rohan is right in saying that CB channels can be closed (meaning a particular recipient group has access to those messages, not the general public). CB would be the better alternative in this case and would allow opt-in or opt-out without the sender knowing the recipients’ numbers. But this is ridiculous about Rajapakse sending out SMS! Talk about propaganda! The “Do Not Call” register in the US seems to work well for such things… Sri Lanka should undoubtedly consider adopting a similar feature!

  20. Mr Samarajiva, why do you have to pay for the sms you recieve? I have two prepaid and postpaid Dialog connections. I am not charged for any SMS I receive on both lines whether I am in Sri Lanka or roaming.

    1. I pay for incoming calls when I am roaming; assumed the same for incoming SMS. Perhaps it is free. Does not change the argument, which rests on the intrusion into my person space and the eating up of my time and attention. In addition, now we find that the TRC has unlawfully compelled the mobile operators to donate their services to the campaign to reelect the President.

      Let’s stick to principles: spam is wrong. Compelling operators to spam is even worse.

      1. Incoming SMSs are also paid by the subscriber while roaming. I know this and it’s a fact. So, your assumption is correct Professor.

  21. Rohan, i hear you. i so feel your pain. i know this is depressing on a new year morning when you had so little time. it hurts, like it hurts everytime i read your diatribes here.

    how dare the president violates your intimate space when you’ve given it to a special few only? how dare he? i know i know… Blood pressure was high that morning. A silly SMS would do the trick. It would get you all aggravated, no? This is why my love you should try meditation. Its good for your health, both mental and physical. More so for your mental well being that i so care about. Atleast you could’ve gone for a Thai massage when you were in Bangkok. What a pitty. An SMS would upset a learned thing. Irony perhaps?

    Rohan my love, grow up. I’m not happy to see you hurt. Cheer up, loosen up, SMILE baby !

  22. In a response for a complaint written by me, Dialog Telekom writes:

    “Further to your E-mail, we wish to inform you that, as per the request which we received from the TRC (Telecommunication Regulatory Commission), we have sent the SMS to all the Dialog subscribers. TRC is the governing body for telecommunication regulations in Sri Lanka and the message was sent by the TRC itself on behalf of the President.”

    Can LIRNEasia shed some light into the legal provisions for this?

  23. See section 5(f) of the Sri Lanka Telecom Act, 25 of 1991.

    “(f) to take such regulatory measures as may be prescribed to comply with any general or special directions that may be given to it from time to time by the Government of Sri Lanka in the interest of national security, public order and the defence of the country ;”

    Election messages are outside the scope.

  24. Rohan, as you noted earlier, it’s actually Section 5(f), not 5(e) of Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act (No. 25 of 1991) – “to take such regulatory measures as may be prescribed to comply with any general or special directions that may be given to him from time to time by the Government of Sri Lanka in the interest of national security, public order and the defence of the country”.

  25. President has sent another message today. thanking all the public for his reappointment. So what? He is the Head of State.

    you all Drohiyoas hate Mahinda Rajapaksa. if Ponna Ranil did the same thing, you would have been thrilled.

    All your predictions ends with his landslide victory at 26th Jan election. did see the results. Don’t be silly boys. You all NGO People hate true srilankans. Have you experience the real rural power at this election?

    Chanuka Bloody pig. he got UN Job thanks to Secretary to the President. Now preaching ICT Bana to the world. we will expose you and pissu Profa very soon. Samarajeew too went on knees to Mahinda Rajapaksa few years ago seeking some high post in the government. we have all the records.

    Thopi kalakanni yako. may rata kanawa.

  26. Sanjana H, you too careful, bloody cow. We will soon upload your sex video to this website.

    ICT Mastros lost at this election. Rural ICT new comers defeated you all. Sorry Fonseka, Sorry Huthotuwa

  27. Lirne Asia is like a UNP refuge camp these days. Where is the UNP Finance minister Harsha Ponnaya. his wife’s vote too for Mahinda Rajapaksa. she is telling funny stories about this Gay+???? animal

  28. Thank You president!! I too received it and it was so touching. As a human being who will die one day it was great to receive a message from the dear president who gave the sleep for us with out fear. Looking for a message on this new year too!!

  29. H.E.The Great Mahinda,21 st Cntury

    Pl. make arrangement for public to doante for public health work of Government,display poster at hopital ,encouraging public to donate for health through bank,issue them certificate appreciating donations,put some ads onT.V.