A great deal of our work starts off with rigorous demand side research; knowing what, how and why users engage with digital technologies provides us with a solid evidence-base to make our policy recommendations. For example, the nationally representative data that we had collected through our AfterAccess surveys in six Asian countries, provided us with a solid evidence base to argue for various policy changes as soon as the pandemic hit. https://lirneasia.net/AfterAccess-COVID19. But going forward with current projects getting off the ground, and in the midst of designing new ones, we’ve had to think about what the pandemic, lockdowns, social distancing, etc.
During a pandemic, the emergence of scientific knowledge may be slow and subject to sudden change. However, swift and decisive policy making is often needed to minimize the damage caused by a pandemic. As a result, policy makers often need to make quick decisions with limited knowledge. This policy brief provides ethics-based guidance for decision making in pandemic-related policy. We situate this guidance in the COVID-19 pandemic, and focus on the following areas: Decision making under uncertainty Privacy of the infected and exposed The ethics of digital contact tracing technologies Restricting the movement of people in quarantine and during lockdowns
Sometime in March 2018, the Sri Lankan government blocked access to Facebook, citing the spread of hate speech on the platform and tying it to the incidents of mob violence in Digana, Kandy. While some lauded the idea, the reality was that Sri Lanka has had a long history of racial violence cultivated by political actors. It has also long since had the powers to arrest instigators of racial violence – the ICCPR Act 56 of 2007 – and did precisely nothing, choosing instead a form of collective punishment for the entire population while shifting the blame away from criticism over lack of police protection for the citizens under attack, something it did again in even more dire circumstances. Nevertheless, it did something interesting: it brought Facebook to the table. To set the record straight, the Data, Algorithms and Policy team at LIRNEasia has engaged with Facebook before.
Wijeratne, Y., de Silva, N. (2020).  Sinhala Language Corpora and Stopwords from a Decade of Sri Lankan Facebook. LIRNEasia.
Disasters wreak havoc and destroy full-scale infrastructures, homes, schools, hospitals, communication systems, and disrupt access to food, clean water, electricity, and transportation. Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster, emergency, and conflict situations due to inaccessible evacuation, response (including shelters, camps, and food distribution), and recovery efforts (Robinson, 2020; Samant Raja et al., 2013; Stough & Kang, 2015; Wolbring, 2009).  The primary focus of this study was reviewing literature on PWD and DiDRR (Disability inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction) specifically involving Asian countries to find gaps in inclusive crisis communication Additionally, the study explored other relevant literature all of which is discussed in the literature review. Thereafter, the method involved synthesizing the findings to propose a conceptual architecture for ICT-enabled assistive technology in support PWDs facing crisis situations.
App-based contact tracing solutions have become popular during COVID-19. However, given their mixed results, wearable technology may prove to be the future. Early last week, it was reported that Singapore had started distributing Bluetooth-powered, wearable contact tracing devices to the elderly, as the first phase of a renewed effort to cover each of its 5.7 million residents with a digital contact tracing device. This new device follows the limited uptake of the earlier TraceTogether mobile app, which has only been downloaded 1.
For those of us who have been thinking about e commerce and the reasons for people not taking to it in large numbers for decades, the COVID-19 related lockdowns gave much to reflect on. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote in the first weeks of the Sri Lankan lockdown in the Daily FT and also in Sinhala. E commerce vendors in Sri Lanka were having a hard time making sales. And these were companies that were dealing with items that do not go bad. The demand that spiked in the past weeks was mostly for goods such as dairy, fruit and vegetables that require care in storage and transportation.
The new normal for education would necessarily involve a heightened awareness of and a focus on sanitation and social distancing. Will the new normal include transformative use of ICTs for learning? Our research shows that it depends on how well policymakers learn from the experience of organically formed teacher-parent-student networks in using ICTs for teaching at a distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use of ICT for teaching is different from the use of ICTs for learning. Teachers have been increasingly using multi-media, e-blackboards, learning management systems and student management systems for efficiencies in teaching, but the effectiveness of teaching is in the learning experienced by students.
On Friday, 26 June, 15:00-17:00 Central European Time (1830-2030 IST), the International Telecommunication Union is convening leading economic experts to discuss COVID19 and the Digital Economy: James Sullivan from J.P. Morgan, Mayssaa Issa from Delta Partners, Matt Yardley from Analysys Mason, Germán Cufré from IFC – International Finance Corporation, Shaun Collins from CCS Insight, Steve Brazier from Canalys, Paul Lam, CFA, FRSA from Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Tim Kelly from The World Bank, Alison Gillwald from Research ICT Africa, Alexandra Rehak from Omdia, Audrey Plonk from OECD – OCDE, Rohan Samarajiva from LIRNEasia and Guy ZIBI from Xalam Analytics will explore emerging research on: (a) COVID19 impact on Digital Economy; and (b) Impact of Digital Infrastructure on recovery. Panel will be opened by ITU SG Houlin Zhao and Telecommunication Development Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin. The rapporteur is Raul Katz.
Both high and low trust may have a role to play in effective pandemic response.
The Internet has been a means of providing continuity in employment and education to many in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders throughout the Internet ecosystem have had to step up to provide connectivity—both to those previously unconnected, and those already connected but with increased demand. Internet service providers (ISPs) in Sri Lanka have been no exception. Responding to a request of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL), many fixed and mobile Internet service providers began providing special packages targeting those working and studying from home. The basic premise is that these packages should allow for cheaper access to the Internet to allow individuals to engage in their work and/or studies.
As everyone knows, COVID-19 and associated lockdowns have reduced electricity demand and increased demand for data. Especially in countries like Sri Lanka which are dependent on imported coal/diesel for production of electricity, there is a great interest in increasing energy efficiency. The IEA has published an interesting report on energy use by data centers and in data transmission. Strong growth in demand for data centre services continues to be offset by ongoing efficiency improvements for servers, storage devices, network switches and data centre infrastructure, as well as a shift to much greater shares of cloud and hyperscale data centres. Hyperscale data centres are very efficient large-scale cloud data centres that run at high capacity, owing in part to virtualisation software that enables data centre operators to deliver greater work output with fewer servers.
I just finished talking to around a hundred students at the Sri Lanka Technological Campus on the above topic. I talked about the differences in kinds of jobs/tasks: consultants/entrepreneurs vs those working in large organizations; those whose work could be done remotely (Robert Reich’s symbol analysts) and those who required co-presence; and also in terms of how demand was affected (those in rubber gloves sector need not worry, while those in tourism services had plenty of cause to worry). And of course we ended up in the usual place: “learning to learn” Jobs for the new normal
The consumption of “fast fashion” and airline travel may decline, but Internet use and consumption of various Internet-based services is likely to rise. This is an opportunity for start-ups as well as the China-based behemoths that the US media makes a habit of ignoring. It’s our job to recognize the bias and correct it. But the actions of the American tech cos will affect our lives in multiple ways, the Facebook investment in Reliance Jio being a prime example. But again, it’s important to note who will be in the driving seat at Reliance Jio: all Facebook got for USD 5.
The problem with regulating information is its inherent slipperyness. In 2018, when invited to speak on the subject I quoted a Deputy Minister of the Malaysian Government, speaking in Parliament: Datuk Jailani Johari, the Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister, explained that fake news is information that is confirmed to be untrue, especially by the authorities or parties related to the news. He said that 1MDB has been investigated by the police and Attorney-General and the reports have been presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is made up of lawmakers from both sides of the divide. Jailani added that recommendations from the PAC report have been accepted and been implemented by the Government. .
LIRNEasia advocated the linking of the Sri Lankan and Indian electricity grids in its formal submission to a PUCSL hearing in 2013. Despite the usual objections I have been promoting this idea ever since, most recently in relation to the government decision to commission another coal-fired plant in Norochcholai. It appears that the 2003 feasibility study that we keep referring to, is obsolete. According to this report, it appears considerable advances have been made in sub-sea electricity cable technology. I hope the government of Indian and Sri Lanka commission an fresh feasibility study and get the job done.