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The inaugural board meeting of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD, more popularly known for their twitter @data4SDGs) was held on the 22nd of September.  I  participated as a GPSDD board member. Significant achievements have been made by GPSDD since its inception, culminating in high level support for the need for good data to measure SDGs, with many nation states making statements at the UN General Assembly which concluded just two days before the board meeting. But countries saying the right things (i.e.
UNCTAD (UN Commission on Trade and Development) is increasingly creating interesting spaces for discussing the digital economy. Their first meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts was convened 4-6 October 2017 in Geneva. Our CEO Helani Galpaya was invited to speak on the specific challenges faced by developing countries in attempting to measure eCommerce activities.  The meeting coincided with the 2017 Information Economy Report, the annual publication by UNCTAD, which this year had the theme of “Digitisation, Trade and Development”. Helani’s talk also mentioned the upcoming nationally representative surveys in 17 global south countries (including 6 in Asia) as being a good source of data on ICT use by households and individuals as well as (in Africa) informal enterprises.
The second submarine cable is supposed to guarantee Bangladesh better international connectivity for the following reasons: Bangladeshi ISPs are eager for SEA-ME-WE5, the second submarine cable. It lands at Kuakata, the southwestern coastal village, this year. Kuakata is 300 nautical miles away from Cox’s Bazar. The two vastly located undersea cable landing facilities will bolster the country’s international connectivity. They will also salvage Bangladeshi ISPs from the Indian carriers’ oligopoly.
When I was studying economics in the 1980s, it was quite vulnerable to the criticism that the entire edifice was built on a shaky assumption: homo economicus. But now that Kahnemann, Thaler et al. have slain h.e., economics is that much stronger.

Understanding Jio

Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on October 7, 2017  /  0 Comments

Once before, the Ambanis (Reliance) disrupted the Indian telecom market, and in the process changed the dynamics of markets across the developing world. This was the “fixed mobility” stunt they pulled off around 2000, when CDMA phones were sold as being usable only within defined areas. But they were actually mobile phones and the company made it possible for the phones to be used across multiple areas. On unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence was to drive down the costs of CDMA network equipment and handsets dramatically. CDMA, which did make sense for Sri Lanka in 1999, made eminent sense in 2003.
Yesterday I was at the launch of a report on cloud computing by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy funded by Microsoft in Manila. Listening to the presentations and then reading the report, I was surprised that there was no discussion whatsoever on any risks that may come with a move to cloud by developing countries. I had written such a discussion for UNCTAD a few years back and blogged about it subsequently. But it’s too easy to beat up on other people. We should always apply these kinds of tests on ourselves.

Why do we engage with SDGs?

Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on October 5, 2017  /  1 Comments

When I said on Facebook that I was on my way to Manila to speak at the 2017 International Conference on Sustainable Development Goals Statistics, a colleague said: “Aren’t SDGs an over-rated self-indulgence by the UN system? True, member states have endorsed them but how many are taking them any more seriously than they did those MDGs? How many captains of industry are familiar with SDGs (never mind the public)?” I have been accused of expedient pragmatism. Never considered it an insult because that’s a necessary part of policy engagement.
We wrote about this sometime back, that too referring to the Economist. Seems that Kenneth Cukier and Abu Saeed Khan are interested in the same kinds of things. But earlier, the talk was about reporting rain. Now it’s about predicting, which is way more interesting: Though it is useful to know how much rain is falling right now, forecasting is even better. Telecoms data promise to make this easier as well.
I have been a fan of Daniel Solove’s approach to privacy, where he foregrounds actual harms suffered by individuals rather than derive remedies from abstract principles. I have often said that the informed-consent model is of zero value when people find that their personally identifiable information stored by an organization has been stolen. The US Federal Trade Commission has called for comments on informational harms or injuries. I am tempted to respond. Would if there were 28 hours in a day.
Libertarians believe private property is sacrosanct. But ownership has never been absolute. In some countries ownership of land includes what lies beneath; in others it does not. Servitudes may detract from absolute ownership and so on. The situation is becoming similar with consumer goods it seems.
Two and a half weeks after the Sri Lanka Broadband Summit, the coverage continues, this time in the highest-circulation English language newspaper, the Sunday Times. The Sri Lankan government should be focusing more on investment and not subsidies to develop telecommunications in the country, says Rohan Samarajiva Chairman of LIRNEasia. Addressing the second Broadband Forum held at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo recently Mr. Samarajiva said that the Government said, “The Sri Lankan government should focused more on investment and not subsidies. Taxing incoming and outgoing calls in this day and age is silly.
The significance of opinion leaders and influentials seeing how life is in other countries is under-appreciated. Around 2000, because of my expertise, I started representing Myanmar at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on technological matters. As I traveled, I saw that neighboring countries were surpassing us. Once, in Cambodia, when I spotted a taxi driver with a cell phone, I thought, “A taxi driver isn’t supposed to have that!” I was also one of the first people in Myanmar to get the internet, and I realized that with just a few clicks, a kid from here could have the same access as one in Silicon Valley.
Galpaya, H.G, Senanayake, D. L, Suthaharan, P. Exploring the challenges faced by Sri Lankan workers in web-based digital labour platforms, CPRsouth 2017, August, 2017.
We have not worked on mobile money in Myanmar. But now that mobile penetration is quite high, time is ripe for mobile financial services. Here is a description of the challenges: The biggest challenge for anyone in this business is the distribution network. Myanmar is such a big country. We’re now in about 70% of townships around the country – to get around and actually see where our outlets are, it’s a lot of travel.
ICTs are what make today’s complex global value chains and global production networks possible. It is the reduction of transaction costs (a central element in many of LIRNEasia’s research projects) that has made these new ways of organizing production emerge. Therefore, I write and talk about GPNs and GVCs. This coming Friday, 29th September, I’ll be speaking on this and participating in a panel discussion at 1800 hrs at Galadari Hotel. The event is organized by the Market Alumni Association.
There was a big kerfuffle about China banning Whatsapp. But when Saudi Arabia did the “beheading” in 2013, much less outrage. Oh well. It helps when you have driven expectation down to the negative range. But anyway, they seem to have figured that there’s a downside in not having these services.