Social media in Myanmar elections

Posted on December 20, 2015  /  0 Comments

Still waiting for a systematic account, but until then, here’s a journalistic account that quotes our friend Nay Phone Latt and has a picture of him in his constituency office. Facebook has been an obvious choice for most, and the National League for Democracy, or NLD, which won a landslide victory over the Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP, has been particularly successful at leveraging social media as a tool. “That was how I communicated with my people and my constituency, mostly through these accounts. People would send me questions, responses and opinions via my Facebook page and account,” said Nay Phone Latt, a newly elected Yangon Region lawmaker for the NLD. “One of my friends called it ‘the silent revolution.
Returning from an expert meeting on big data n Bangkok, I was in the passenger seat on the way back from the airport. Looked up Google maps for the traffic. This feature has been available in Sri Lanka only for a few weeks. On the main roads, it was pretty accurate. Once we turned off to a busy, but not-a-principal road, the traffic indicator went blank.
ESCAP is part of the UN. By design, it is better positioned to work across silos than specialized agencies such as the ITU and WHO. One of the key points made about the sustainable development goals that were recently adopted is that they require working across silos. Big data naturally cuts across disciplinary boundaries. It transcends organizational silos.
In a few hours I’ll be speaking at a panel on how big data is already being used for sustainable development. ESCAP has pulled together an interesting group of people together to talk about how big data can help with the daunting task of measuring progress on the 169 targets that the UN has set for itself. The slides I will be using are here. Sorry they do not tell the full story since I have been asked to keep them to a minimum.

Loon facing turbulence in India

Posted on December 12, 2015  /  0 Comments

Economic Times reports three problems, of which it says the spectrum issue is the hardest to address. One of the primary concerns with the proposal is that the spectrum band required for the transmission is unavailable. According to DoT, Google has sought a band of 700 to 900 MHz, which is occupied by telecom service providers. Union communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed that there are technical glitches in Project Loon. “The proposed frequency band to be used in the Loon Project of Google is being used for cellular operations in India and it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions,” he said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
According to the latest data, Sri Lanka has 16 Facebook users per 100 people. According to a 12,500 household survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics in January-June 2015, Sri Lanka has 11.8 Internet users aged 5-69 years, per 100 people. The wording is a little ambiguous, so it may be possible that it’s 11.8 households with a Internet user, per 100 households.
For sometime, Helani Galpaya has been communicating the message that affordability is not enough by itself for Internet use by the people of developing Asia. For example, this is what she said at a well-received presentation on SDGs at UN DESA, 8-9 June 2015. She has been saying this in a number of places and as is our custom, the slides have been placed on the web. Her conclusions were based on our research and ITU data and the proposed solutions also drew from several lines of our work. So we were not surprised to see the message being repeated in a blog and as the main headline of the A4AI newsletter.
Earlier today, I was asked by a TV channel to comment on the most recent (2015 H1) computer literacy and related indicators issued by the Department of Census and Statistics. I summarize below my comments. The survey, based on a sample of 12,500 households with persons aged 5-69 years, reported that computer literacy for the country was 26.8 percent. Under the previous administration, computer literacy was a fraught indicator.
Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.” Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
The notional ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ under One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative connects China with Central Asia, Russia and Europe. It also links China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean through Central Asia and West Asia. Trains carrying goods as well as the Block Trains between Chinese and European destinations via Kazakhstan under OBOR have set a new paradigm to the transcontinental cargo shipments. Therefore, portraying Kazakhstan as ‘buckle’ of the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ should not be exaggerating. ESCAP has invited me to discuss Central Asia’s potentials as a trading hub.
I have been working with Pathfinder Foundation for a while. Their focus is economics, so it was good fit. Now they are getting into Track 2, with China as well as India. The track 2 with India involves the Vivekananda International Foundation, the Modi Think Tank, which has a strong focus on strategic affairs. I am therefore being asked to speak on infrastructure issues to Chinese as well India strategic affairs people, which I find quite interesting.

Trust, elections and technology

Posted on December 7, 2015  /  0 Comments

Rather unusual topic in terms of this blog. But we do work on privacy, competition and marginalization in different technological contexts. Privacy is deeply connected to information disclosure, which is one of the primary modalities of gaining trust. So when I was asked to speak on this subject to a group of young diplomats from developing countries by the Chair of the Elections Commission, I said yes. The Department of Elections which is under the new Elections Commission is widely seen as an effective and credible organization trusted by the citizens.
LIRNEasia has had a deep commitment to decentralized innovation. Specifically in relation to Pakistan, we advocated more reasonable revenue splits for app developers and actions to reduce the transaction costs for them as far back as in May 2010. We are happy to see actions on those lines reported from Pakistan. Irfan Wahab Khan, Deputy CEO of Telenor Pakistan, while speaking with ProPakistani, confirmed the plans and said that Telenor Pakistan is determined to play a role in nurturing and strengthening startups ecosystem in Pakistan. “In addition to giving these startups an access to our assets, such as distribution channels, retail network, Telenor Pakistan has bundled a tool-kit with payment, location and other similar APIs, that will be made available to these selected startups”, explained Irfan Wahab Khan.
In 2012, I wrote in a Myanmar newspaper that according to the latest ITU data, Myanmar had less mobile SIMs in service for 100 people than every other country except St Helena, which had no mobile service at all. There was nothing to say about Internet. Three years later, Myanmar has leaped ahead of both Pakistan and Bangladesh in the ICT Development Index (IDI), driven principally by a 15-place advance in the Use Sub-index. It is now ranked 142nd among the countries that are included by the ITU in the Index. The massive increase in the number of mobile SIMs per 100 people increasing from one in 2010 to 49.
LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow Payal Malik has written a thoughtful op-ed about how and when regulatory action is required in an economy that is does not assign centrality to static consumer surplus. Shall the choice of competition rules in India be also guided by some ideological underpinnings or there are some bright line rules that can guide regulatory philosophy? The normative basis of regulating the digital economy will finally depend on what ideology the Indian regulatory governance subscribes to. If it considers concentrated markets, by their very nature, to be undesirable, then an interventionist approach would be adopted and competition rules would impose visions of an ideal market upon economic agents. But if the regulators ascribe to a dynamic view of competition, concentrated markets will have to be traded off for consumer benefit.
The Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka and the Young Planners Association of Sri Lanka organized a workshop at the UDA premises on 4th December 2015 for LIRNEasia to share is ongoing research on leveraging mobile network big data for urban and transportation planning. The slides are available HERE.