Google alerted me that a new article had been published on Upgrading Myanmar’s internet connection by the well-funded and hyperactive A4AI. I had the alerts on because I’ve been working in Myanmar since 2012.
I was surprised. The article reminded me of what the lawyers in the Attorney General’s Department in Sri Lanka call a balloon opinion. The words are there. The product is pretty. But there’s nothing really in it, like in a balloon. One skeptic pricks the pretty balloon and it collapses into nothing. I am that skeptic, who hopes that the donors who keep shoveling money into A4AI understand that their money is being used for floating pretty balloons.
The big news in the Myanmar ICT space is that the fourth operator who is partially owned by Viet Tel which is majority owned by the Vietnamese military is rolling out. The big question is whether they will have unfair advantages over other operators because they gave minority ownership to a Tatmadaw owned company. Is there any mention even of the existence of MyTel in the balloon piece? No. Readers of the A4AI piece would get the impression there are only three operators in Myanmar.
The title “Upgrading Myanmar’s Internet Connection” would lead one to expect some discussion about the quality of Internet service experience, especially problems with high latency, which had been widely disseminated within the country. None. Access to cables connecting Myanmar to the outside and measures to upgrade the capacity and ensure fairness to competitors? None.
Some organizations spend most of their resources doing research. Others spend most of their money on workshops, publicity, and directly influencing decision makers. The former are called think tanks. The latter are called do tanks. Ideal types are ideal types. In actual fact think tanks also spend resources on dissemination (DFID recommends that all research projects allocate 25 percent of the budget to this). And the good do tanks spend resources on systematically collating evidence. Most are think and do tanks.
I can understand A4AI not doing research if they see themselves on the “do” side of the continuum. But surely they can at least cover the issues; do justice to the caption; link to some research actually done in the country. Even if they have not done any research, at least refer to the work that has been by others, ideally with attribution, but even without.
For those who want a status report on where Myanmar is in terms of Internet connectivity, I would suggest
LIRNEasia’s most recent article in Myanmar Times; On the policy and regulatory challenges, a conference paper.