In the course of reviewing Jonathan Donner’s After Access: Inclusion, Development, and a More Mobile Internet (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015), I realized why we always had trouble fitting in at most ICT for Development conferences and perhaps why our papers (and those of RIA) had trouble getting accepted. It was because were not doing conventional ICTD interventions (the first described below) but were removing barriers or roadblocks (the subtitle of our first book). One form of intervention, privileged in this book, is initiated by an external actor who knows what effective use is, for the benefit of the subjects who do not. The other form seeks to remove barriers to innovation by users of ICT and by those who seek to supply ICT goods and services to such users. This generally takes the form of legal or policy reform to enable certain actions (e.
It has been over five years since we started work on systematic reviews. I am in the middle of editing a special issue of a journal that will address the issue of how we take research to policy. As I say in the slides below, it seems unfair to ask of social science systematic reviews everything that is delivered by SRs in the healthcare space. In healthcare, the institutional arrangements are well established. One human body being more or less similar to another, the causal mechanisms discovered through SRs work well pretty much all of the time.
That was what someone from the audience said to one of the presenters at the end of our Systematic Reviews presentation at CPRsouth 12 in Zanzibar, September 10, 2016. Two years ago, at CPRsouth 2014 in Maropeng, LIRNEasia presented early results from ongoing Systematic Reviews (SRs) and presented ideas on how SR methodology could enhance the work of policy-oriented researchers. Two years later, the research is complete and we have disseminated the findings of all the projects. A special issue of Information Technology and International Development is forthcoming. As with all LIRNEasia projects, the dissemination will not end with the closing of the project.
We’ve been pushing for greater policy attention to international backhaul markets since 2010. Haven’t said as much on domestic backhaul, but we have talked about that as a constraint as well. Good to have the FCC Chair on our side. Supplying backhaul is a profitable activity for the largest carriers in the US, notably AT&T and Verizon. Others, including Sprint, complain the market is uncompetitive.
There appeared to be a problem with loading the slideset, so I went to Plan B. I was just about to do a big data talk with no slides. That is the first learning: always have a Plan B and be ready to improvise. This being Oxford, I thought they could access the slides off the Internet. But then the technical problem was solved and I gave a conventional talk.
According to the Daily Mirror, the Finance Minister has said ““They (e-commerce operators) are just operating here. Where is the regulation for that? We will make them bring money earned here back to the country.” He appears to be responding to non-e commerce businesses who are complaining as below. Meanwhile during the 9th Ease of Doing Business Forum the Rent-A-Car Association representative Milinda Mallawarachchi called for e-commerce regulations.
In our big data for development work, we collaborate with data-savvy economists as well as economists who can code. Within Sri Lanka, we have not found them, but we keep looking. But looks like this is the future of economics. But what the tech economists are doing is different: Instead of thinking about national or global trends, they are studying the data trails of consumer behavior to help digital companies make smart decisions that strengthen their online marketplaces in areas like advertising, movies, music, travel and lodging. Tech outfits including giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft and up-and-comers like Airbnb and Uber hope that sort of improved efficiency means more profit.
We can offer up systematic reviews. But it seems like a good old fashioned story may be more effective. When the storm hit, some of the younger, more tech-savvy residents had snapped photos of the giant hailstones and the damage they had caused. The photos, of hole-filled roofs and wind-bent buildings, were uploaded to their personal Facebook accounts, and widely shared both in Myanmar and abroad. The first donors to arrive in the village were responding to nothing more than the pictures they had seen on Facebook.

New kids on the block of AP-IS

Posted on September 2, 2016  /  0 Comments

We thought that long distance carriers would be the primary beneficiaries of Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS). That was way back in 2010 and six years is long enough to radically transform telecoms in this century. Now the Internet companies and content providers are outperforming the baffled carriers in every front. That is what I presented in the 2nd Working Group Meeting of AP-IS at Guangzhou early this week. Image source.

Big data and agriculture

Posted on September 1, 2016  /  0 Comments

I was asked to make one point about the way forward at the closing session of the excellent e agriculture solutions forum organized by the FAO and ITU offices in Bangkok. Here is what I said (more or less, but this is the jist): Big data in agriculture We have come a long way from being fixated on radio as the be all and end all of ICTs in agriculture. We are fortunate to be living in an age when we can even take smartphones for granted in Myanmar, a country still listed as an LDC and one which went from 10 mobile connections per 100 people to over 80 in less than two years. Our own surveys (early 2015) showed that 63 percent of all mobile owners in Myanmar had smartphones, with more computing power than the computers we used just a decade ago. The mean price of a handset was USD87, with the largest number being in the USD 50 range.
The University of Moratuwa is a valuable partner in our big data for development research program. They had organized a two-day workshop with colleagues from the Singapore Management University exploring the big data space. LIRNEasia was invited. Our collaborator Dr Amal Shehan Perera, who is on faculty at UoM, talked about the epidemiology work. I used my time to talk about our work in the urban development space, paying special attention to how we met the challenges in three areas: how we took our research to policy; how we obtained the data; and how we recruited the skilled researchers.
I am hearing a lot of praise for Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan’s lucid explanation of the rationale for the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway. Because we’ve had an almost complete turnover of the people who worked hard on getting this topic on the UN ESCAP the priority it deserved, starting from Under Secretary General Noeleen Hayzer and most importantly Tiziana , this oral history has added significance.
The point of the post about Myanmar’s Facebook users was to make the point that it was sensible to use Facebook user numbers as floor for Internet user estimations. But someone who commented on what I had tweeted appeared to think it was some flaw on the part of Myanmar or its people: Another country where Facebook and the Internet are often mixed up — Digital Asia Hub (@digitalasiahub) August 29, 2016 I was thinking why, when I recalled what a speaker from the Thai telecom industry association had said during his presentation at the e agriculture event. In his talk, the number of Thai Internet users and Thai Facebook users was identical: 38 million.
  I was happy to moderate a thoughtfully assembled session at the FAO-ITU organized e agriculture solutions forum in Nanthaburi, Thailand, 29-31 August 2016. The objective of this session was to share initiatives on e-agriculture – the challenges and opportunities from public and private sector. There were speakers from a government research organization, a research group at a university, a trade association representing telecom operators, and a private firm. They will present a range of exciting solutions, some centered on complex computer systems that integrate multiple data streams and others that focused on the smartphone interface. One question I did not have time to ask was one I wrote down right at the beginning: “if you could pick the application that has the greatest impact from all that you have done in this space, what role was played in its success by collaboration?
LIRNEasia’s concerns re the quality of ITU’s way of counting Internet users are well known. In addition to relying on arbitrary multipliers, they are slow in producing the data. It’s now the second half of 2016, and the most current data from the ITU is from 2014. In a rapidly changing sector like ICTs, this is ancient history. So I hope I will be forgiven for claiming that Facebook user numbers which are from 2016 are a better indicator that ITU’s obsolete and questionable indicator.
Below is an excerpt of the write-up of the 2nd BIMSTEC Foundation Lecture I gave on the 24th of August. As the economies of the littoral states grow, the need for connectivity will be heightened. Greater connectivity will make possible increased economic interactions and thereby further accelerate growth. With four of the littoral states among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world as shown in Figure 2 based on IMF projections. If the adjacent states of Cambodia and Laos are included six of the 10 fastest growing economies are in the region.