MIDO and LIRNEasia offered a one day program that addressed issues of telecom and Internet policy and regulation, along with e government and social media in Yangon to around 20 legislators from the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament. The slides used are given below: What is the significance of ICTs to legislators?: Rohan Samarajiva What to people in Myanmar do with ICTs? Results of field research: Helani Galpaya Legislation, policies, plans, strategies, regulation: Rohan Samarajiva What is independent regulation? Why is it needed?

Hope for Sri Lanka Post?

Posted on June 20, 2016  /  0 Comments

In contrast to the usual tales of woe, increasing losses and strikes, an online publication had this optimistic story: Sri Lanka Post has done its homework. According to Shervyn Senadheera, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Posts, Postal Services & Muslim Religious Affairs, a survey conducted between 2013 and 2014 with a sample size of 1,122 participants found that only 15 – 18% of the population has the capability of getting their services online, through the internet, mobile phones and apps. The rest of the population faces immense hurdles in terms of language, computer literacy, access to hardware, and confidence with technology. Senadheera is of the opinion that whatever the technology introduced, basic problems like those mentioned above need to be addressed first. And there is truth to the statement: even a giant technological development drive will need to tackle computer literacy before the people can enjoy its benefits.
I discussed what is required for Sri Lankan firms to effectively participate in global value chains and reforms of State-Owned Enterprises at the Management Club of Colombo. The slides are here.

Concerns about BharatNet delays

Posted on June 15, 2016  /  0 Comments

Osama Manzar of Digital Empowerment Foundation has written an op ed on BharatNet, still being described by the unfortunate acronym NOFN. We have been writing about it since Sam Pitroda came up with the plan in 2012-13. What is sad is that the story has not changed much since 2013-14, despite governments and ministers changing. In Palla village of Dadri, the village head informed us that NOFN cables had been laid in the area 18 months ago, but there was still no set-up box or Wi-Fi tower. This is alarming because Ballabhgarh and Dadri are within a 50-km radius from Delhi.
The government newspaper, the Ceylon Daily News, carried a well-written story on Google Loon, Rama Corp, and dangers to spectrum framework. “We first told the companies who had been with us throughout, that because they had supported us through difficult times, we would give them a base frequency of 7.5Mhz (900Mhz band). The other companies, like Suntel, Lanka Bell and Lanka Telecom were given a base of 2.5Mhz (800Mhz band).

ICTD 2016

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The 8th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2016) was held from 3- 6th June 2016. The conference held at the University of Michigan, saw a variety of sessions on different topics. LIRNEasia participated in the session on ‘Debating Open Development: Sharing and Interrogating Experiences of Developing Cross-Cutting Theory in ICTD’ organized by the Strengthening Information Society Research Capacity Alliance (SIRCA). This session provided an introduction to the SIRCA III Research Programme. LIRNEasia has been selected as one of the teams to conduct research in the empirical phase of the SIRCA III Programme.
We have been kicking around the idea of giving insurance a greater role in disaster risk reduction and response since 2005. Just a few months back I raised the issue at a workshop at UN ESCAP. In an interview with a Sinhala newspaper last week, I said it was a pity we were not anchoring compensation for flood damage on insurance principles and just giving out money. But here is good news. Too often, we criticize governments for sins of omission and commission.
LIRNEasia has been at the forefront of big data analysis for development in Sri Lanka, conducting in-house analysis to generate actionable insights across a range of policy domains. On 6th May 2016, LIRNEasia and the Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka jointly convened a planning meeting on building better models for forecasting the propagation of infectious disease such as dengue in Sri Lanka. The meeting was intended to lay the foundation for a multi-disciplinary collaboration engaging health informatics specialists, epidemiologists, and data scientists to identify research priorities and opportunities. The participants included the following: Madhushi Bandara, Junior Researcher, LIRNEasia Prof Vajira Dissanayake (Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka, Biomedical Informatics Programme – Postgraduate Institute of Medicine) Dr. M.
A early paper based on LIRNEasia’s work on big data was presented at the 2014 CPRsouth conference in Maropeng, South Africa. The journal article based on that has just been published. The abstract: Rapid urban population growth is straining transportation systems. A big data–centric approach to transportation management is already a reality in many developed economies, with transportation systems being fed a large quantity of sensor data. Developing countries, by contrast, rely heavily on infrequent and expensive surveys.
Our disaster-relief partner Sarvodaya organized a small event at the community center at Pahala Bomiriya to hand over the remainder of the relief supplies to affected families. I was invited to say a few words. I talked about the need to build more resilient communities so that we could respond to hazards better in the future. The science of being able to forewarn people of floods exists. What we need to do is to implement the available solutions.
A report published by Analysis Mason this April on “How to get a billion Indians online by 2020” explores different potential business models to connect digitally un served and under served Indians. As for their forecast, unique Internet users in India by 2020 will be 746 million. The authors suggest connecting the additional 254 million digitally un-served and under-served Internet users are important for the users to benefit from the multiple government initiatives such as MGNREGA, AADHAR and Digital India. As the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) backhaul is been rolled out in India, authors explore seven business models to provide last mile access using NOFN  infrastructure. Operators/ ISP initiatives Promotional 3G/ 4G packs to drive discovery/ Experimentation Minimal speed free universal data access (64 kbps; 10MB/ day) Central/ State government initiatives Community or Government institution Wi-Fi (NOFN) Subsidized data packs for low income group segment USOF based WiFi access through reverse auction using NOFN Corporates and tech companies driven initiatives CSR based free WiFi access Use of innovative technologies/ solutions for access It explores the pros and cons of each of the above access models and compare them based on multiple parameters.

Regulating through design

Posted on June 10, 2016  /  0 Comments

It was in the 1990s that Larry Lessig put into beautiful form an idea that was bubbling up all over the place among people thinking about emerging technology. This was the idea of West Coast Code versus East Coast Code. Both regulated what could and could not be done on various tech-mediated spaces. But East Coast Code sought to do so through law, courts, regulatory agencies and the old paraphernalia of the regulatory state. There are obvious problems in this approach.
I was asked about Loon by a journalist from Ceylon Daily News, the government newspaper. Here is the gist of what I said. Sri Lanka has fewer Internet users than we would expect for a country at its level of income and literacy. I am all in favor of experiments and innovations that seek to address this problem. Therefore I am in favor of Loon.
A conference organized on the occasion of the retirement of a senior professor, set apart a full day for papers and discussion on the options for improving government universities. Of course, most of the audience was from the government universities and having devoted their entire lives to that enterprise, many were not willing to recognize how bad things were. Some discussed how the deck chairs could be rearranged on their beloved Titanic. Many blamed the “demand side” for not knowing how their students were and for using wrong criteria, not understanding that this itself was a symptom of a complacent monopoly. I was, of course, accused of many things.
When the biggest disaster since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit close to home, we responded in our customary fashion. We asked for donations to be matched by LIRNEasia and we thought about how we could contribute through knowledge. We remitted the first tranche of cash to our partner, Sarvodaya on 19th May, just as the relief effort was getting started. There is value to donations in kind, but the flexibility of cash is essential. And the first writing based on the thinking was published on the 23rd.
Below are excerpts from the abstract of a paper entitled “Has the incidence of brain cancer risen in Australia since the introduction of mobile phones 29 years ago?,” published in Cancer Epidemiology. Significant increases in brain cancer incidence were observed (in keeping with modelled rates) only in those aged 70 years (both sexes), but the increase in incidence in this age group began from 1982, before the introduction of mobile phones. Modelled expected incidence rates were higher in all age groups in comparison to what was observed. Assuming a causal RR of 2.