What’s wrong with looking at the options?

Posted on August 14, 2015  /  4 Comments

A noted writer on technology who was quite supportive of our stand against efforts to assert strong national controls over the Internet through resolutions approved at the WCIT 2012, tagged me on a tweet about this alarmist piece about the Sri Lanka government’s MOU with Google to test Loon over Lanka that included the para below:

The real effects of this deal will be seen after Sri Lanka’s citizens have tasted universal Internet access: how can Sri Lanka’s political parties be expected to formulate and push through strict legislation on issues such as local data storage, privacy and search engine neutrality when the party that will be affected the most (Google) is the one responsible for the country’s Internet coverage? While there may be no outright arm-twisting – which is not Silicon Valley’s style – Sri Lanka’s legislators will undoubtedly think twice before coming out with legislation that would require Internet companies to retain Sri Lankan data on Sri Lankan soil; a controversial notion that has seen countries such as Brazil flip-flop in the face of intense lobbying.

It’s possible that my friend did not read to the end, but simply thinking that he would outsource the response to this piece to me. But then others, who are even more anchored in the civil-rights approach to ICTs and everything retweeted this which suggests that they endorse this piece.

I am no fan of outmoded notions of national sovereignty. A fragmented Internet where local data storage is mandatory not the kind of Internet I prefer. Been in China, seen how Internet works there. So I have no sympathy whatsoever with people who want to empower “Sri Lanka’s political parties be expected to formulate and push through strict legislation on issues such as local data storage.”

It seems that people are looking for reasons to object to Loon. But why? No one is upset when another submarine cable lands on our shores. Why object to some other way of moving our data into the Internet cloud?

If Sri Lanka were to rip out the existing cables and become solely dependent on Loon, there could be a concern. But as far as I know, there is no such intention. We know from our research that it is critical to bring down domestic and international backhaul costs if we are to connect more of our people to the Internet. What’s wrong with looking at options other than fiber optic cables?


  1. Nalaka Gunawardene

    Sharing that weblink doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m opposed to Google Loon in Sri Lanka. I’m just intrigued by all the speculation and conspiracy theories that seem to follow because Google is large, pervasive and American! I collect conspiracy theories not because I believe them, but they are revealing…

    My own measured views on Google Loon are here: http://www.dailymirror.lk/81869/beyond-google-loon-more-needed-to-bring-internet-for-all

  2. Sanjiva Weerawarana

    Rohan I think you should try and understand the technology behind Loon before proclaiming it as a solution to remote internet access in Sri Lanka.

    Given the small size of the country there is really no place a microwave link can’t be used to reach a base station. The only reason there may not be 3G/4G base stations in remote areas is because there aren’t enough people to justify the investment for it. All the government needs to do is provide subsidies to make those come up (and change how towers are built in Sri Lanka – a pet peeve of yours I believe).

    Also, Loon is beaming down LTE .. and from the VERY LITTLE technical information that’s available on the net it appears that you need a special antenna to receive (and more importantly) to transmit. No tiny few milliwatt radio with a tiny battery (in a cell phone) can reliably exchange bits with ballon 60,000 ft in the sky. In any case, how many poor farmers have 4G LTE devices? I don’t have one yet (and feel no pressure to get one .. HSPDA gives me enough).

    Loon (again AFAICT) is awesome to get a backbone link to really remote places- Sri Lanka is not big enough to need that to solve the problem of universal access.

    Finally, I’m pretty sure Sri Lanka has more %ge of the country covered by 3G and 4G than even the US.

    Even in the US 15% of the population has no Internet access. See [1].

    And lets cut the crap about Loon = WiFi please. IMO future is more about using phones to get to the net and not traditional broadband (Cable, Fiber whatever) .. just like we skipped the copper cable phone age to get to universal telephony coverage, we will skip the WiFi age to get to universal internet coverage. Our phone companies’ data plans are a hell of a lot more rational and cost effective than those in the US from my experience. Another interesting report is [2].

    [1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/28/15-of-americans-dont-use-the-internet-who-are-they/
    [2] http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/

  3. I am afraid I am not the one whose understanding falls short.

    Nowhere did I say Loon will connect the end user. I see it as ANOTHER OPTION for domestic and international backhaul.

    All over Asia, these critical inputs are too costly. You appear to accept that fact by suggesting the government should subsidize domestic backhaul using microwave (why microwave, when we have fiber even in Mullaitivu?). The problem is not that we do not have backhaul, but that it is too costly. The regulator has not been aggressive enough re controlling SLT’s backhaul pricing.

    Loon will exert the kind of pressure SLT understands.

    Will it work? Who knows? What’s the harm in seeing whether it will? That was the gist of my post. I am not supporting anything. I just do not see the rationale for opposing something that will do no harm, and may do some good.

  4. Sanjiva Weerawarana

    Rohan I commented on FB already but since there’s a different comment here – if Loon had been presented to the country as a backhaul alternative we could have intelligent discussions. Instead of was presented (repeatedly) as a nationwide WiFi solution. That’s utter BS.

    Even with Loon, some operator has to put up a local tower in an area where there is none now (or you can do a little local hotspot for a school for example). If there’s no tower its not there for a reason … only way to change that is for TRC to use the money they collect from all of us to fund those towers.

    I have ZERO ZERO ZERO objection to experimenting with Loon. Please read the statements by ICTA and others and see whether that’s the story that’s being pitched.

    The biggest test will be to see how easy or hard it will be to keep 13 balloons more or less stationary on top of Sri Lanka by jumping jetstreams. That technology is mindboggling – kudos to the brilliant people who did that math.