Blog — Page 29 of 337 — LIRNEasia


I was asked to say a few words on how to use social media at a meeting of government information officers. I anchored my comments around what had occurred in the last few years to make me change my thinking on whether government could effectively use social media. Government organizations provide a range of services to citizens and non-citizens (e.g., foreign investors, visitors).
The NYT piece suffers from peculiar worldview of American and European journalists who think all good innovations come from their part of the world (Singapore pioneered congestion pricing for road use in 1975), but let’s focus on the positive: the drawing out of lessons from Thaler and Springsteen about the need to address hardwired perceptions of fairness: Technology is making “variable” or “dynamic” pricing — the same strategies that ensure a seat on an airplane, a hotel room or an Uber car are almost always available if you’re willing to pay the price — more plausible in areas with huge social consequences. Dynamic pricing of electricity could help bring down pollution, reduce energy costs and make renewable energy more viable. Constantly adjusting prices for access to highways and congested downtowns could make traffic jams, with all the resulting wasted time and excess emissions, a thing of the past. Any sector where supplies tend to be fixed but demand fluctuates — the water supply, health care — would seem like prime candidates for variable pricing.
The secret of success is how bad things are. And things are not very good with regard to banking and financial services in the country with the second lowest population density in Asia: In Myanmar cash is king. Fewer than one in ten of its 53m people has a bank account. But an explosion in smartphone use means rudimentary financial offerings are appearing where even roads are rare. After the end of the state’s mobile-phone monopoly four years ago, mobile penetration jumped from 7% to 89% now.
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 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 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.