One of the problems with social media is that no one reads beyond the 140 characters. I was asked about mobile number portability via Twitter. I provided the information via links in a blog post and then tweeted the post. I get the sense that no one went to the nuances. I am good at summarizing, but cannot give the true pros and cons in 140 characters.
We have been requested via social media to shed light on MNP, I gather in light of various dissatisfactions about what all ISPs did in terms of blocking websites in the past few years. Attachment to the number, the costs involved in printing up new business cards, etc were seen by many in the West as a barrier to customers changing from one operator to another. There are instances when we have unequivocally recommended MNP. But as a general rule, one has to weigh the pros and cons. This slideset is the most comprehensive I could find, though it was worked up for small economies where the economic case for MNP is much harder.
Five years ago, our Lead Consultant Economist, Dr Harsha de Silva, entered Parliament as an opposition national-list MP. For those unfamiliar with idiosyncrasies of Sri Lankan politics, that is an MP without constituency responsibilities who is appointed by a political party based on the contribution he/she may make to legislative or executive functions. Without doubt, Harsha was one of the best national-list MPs in the 14th Parliament. In the early years, he continued to engage in research-related activities sometimes on behalf of LIRNEasia and sometimes on his own. Few years back, his party made him a constituency organizer which left him little time for research.
On 16th January, 2015 at the invitation of the Sri Lanka Institution of Engineers LIRNEasia presented a public lecture in Colombo on the results of our ongoing big data for development research. The public lecture was organized by The Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL) and attracted over 40 people in person and an unknown number via streaming at the Wimalasurendra Auditorium in the IESL head office. LIRNEasia’s Founding Chair Rohan Samarajiva and Researcher, Danaja Maldeniya presented some of the initial findings of relevance to urban and transportation planning. They were joined in the Q&A by Sriganesh Lokanathan. The presentation slides are available HERE.
I was somewhat disappointed by the Modi government leaning toward the IBM vision of smart cities, where sensors would be ubiquitously placed across green-field new-build satellite cities across India. Our vision is lower cost and seeks to improve existing cities relying on citizens as the principal sensors. So I was pleased to our thinking echoed in a http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/building-smarter-cities?
The most recent State of the Internet report by Akamai lists the Philippines (global rank 105) and India (global rank 115) at the bottom in terms of average connection speed for fixed broadband (fixed BB). The average speed (2.5 Mbps and 2 Mbps respectively) isn’t the real issue. The quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) change that is pretty much non existent and the year-over-year (YoY) change that averages at 30% for both are bigger issues, in my opinion; specially in contrast with Indonesia that has a 49% QoQ change and a 149% YoY change. These are also the 2 economies that have a less than 10% broadband adoption rate, among those surveyed (significant disconnect with ITU numbers for India’s Fixed Broadband Subscriptions per 100, but still under 10%).
Parvez Iftikhar will be amused that I am proposing a fund, after objecting to his favorite Universal Service Fund. But that is how the policy game gets played. We look at something that does not work at all or produces more bad outcomes than good (government-owned telcos with universal service obligations in the old days; government-owned media organizations now) and propose a solution that will reduce the harm (universal service fund for telecom; public media content fund for media). Then we see how the solution works and propose sunsetting it or shutting it down if it has been hijacked by nefarious interests. Deng Xiao Ping called this crossing the river by feeling the stones.
Net Neutrality has been debated, discussed and re-discussed for a while now, mainly in the context of the west. For the first time however, it is now being debated in India, “virtually overnight”, when Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile network provider announced preferential pricing for VoIP services. The government is in favour of maintaining net neutrality as the Internet is an instrument for the masses and must remain so, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said, marking the first time the Centre has adopted a public stand on the subject. “The Internet must promote local along with the global. For India, net neutrality is very important,” Prasad, also the IT minister, said at a meeting with US Under-Secretary of State Catherine Novelli.
I did not know how bad things were in Pakistan until I read this essay by my friend Parvez Iftikhar, the greatest universal service fund evangelist there is. Coming to home, the level of utilization of USF funds in Pakistan, at this time, is actually worse. According to a careful estimate, since 2006 an equivalent of US$ One Billion has been collected (including the interest earned on the collections) – excluding those millions that were collected by PTA in the initial years and deposited directly with the government. Out of this One Billion, US$ 160 Million has been disbursed to the telcos. Another US$ 110 Million is committed in signed contracts of on-going projects, and is lying with the Government of Pakistan.
Partha Mukhopadhdyaya is an expert on cities, having studied them in multiple countries including China and India. He also happens to serve on our scientific advisory board. Mint carried the first part of an interesting discussion with Partha on cities. When we talk about the insights from big data for cities, we naturally get slotted into the data for “planning” box. But I’ve always been wary about planning and also talk about experimentation using near-real-time and low-cost feedback.
Our own work with big data focuses on cities. This guest editorial in the UN Global Pulse blog provides as excellent rationale for the focus on cities. In addition, it raises some areas for caution. Placing algorithms at the forefront (or even in the front-row seat) of decision-making may have potentially severe drawbacks. It’s indeed us who program algorithms, and we are exposed to a variety mistakes while programming.
Yuan Ze University is a leading private university in Taiwan. In keeping with its strategy of differentiation and internationalization, it has invited LIRNEasia to interact with its new Center of Excellence known as the Innovation Center for Big Data and Convergence. Even though Taiwan is not a country of focus for LIRNEasia, we have had considerable interactions with Taiwan academics over the years within the framework of CPRsouth. Professor Yu-li Liu was one of the founder members of the CPRsouth Board and helped us establish relationships in the Peoples Republic. Professor Yuntsai Chou of Yuan Ze in currently on the CPRsouth Board.
Forbes India has just published a list of 24 influentials, in no particular order, according the author. We were pleased to see two colleagues with whom we interact a lot, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Sunil Abraham featured in the “top ten.” Our congratulations to this well-deserved honor and our wishes for more strength in the New Year in improving the quality of policy discourse in India, perhaps the most important and challenging of the countries we work in. Our congratulations also to Ajay Shah and Nachiket Mor with whom we have had limited interactions. We look forward to getting to know the others on the list.
Ethnic issues continue to provide the sub text for a presidential election scheduled for the eighth of January 2015. At this point on the dawn on 2015 it is appropriate to recall that one issue that was pivotal in setting off the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka was access to public higher education. Forty years later, the education landscape has seen much change. Urban youth, irrespective of racial divide seem to be moving on, taking advantage of new opportunities, while our rural youth are still stuck in the “school to government university to government job” paradigm. The real division among us is not about race or about who love this country most, but, it is about those who are able to exploit opportunities of a knowledge economy and those who are unable.
A story reporting Pew research on perceptions on the Internet has this little nugget showing how different developed markets are from ours. For all the talk of our culture moving to mobile phones, more than one-third of the respondents said a landline phone was vital to their jobs, compared with the one-quarter that said a cellphone was very important. Pew surveyed 535 American adults employed full-time or part-time in September using a nationally representative online research panel. The margin of error for the survey, which was conducted in English, was plus or minus 5 percentage points. Respondents said the Internet had made them more productive and given them more flexibility in their jobs, but about 35 percent said they were also working longer hours because of it.
The Government of Pakistan has ordered an expensive re-verification process of all mobile SIMs in the aftermath of the Peshawar Massacre. Aslam Hayat, a LIRNEasia alumnus now with Telenor Pakistan, has pointed out that the root cause is being ignored: However this does not mean that the system is foolproof, there is possibility that at the retail-end, some of the sellers may violate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for small gains without the support and knowledge of the mobile operators. The big question is why somebody would do this and why there is demand for SIMs on fake subscriptions. Without fear of contradiction, I can say with confidence that no franchisee or a retailer will ever knowingly sell a SIM to a terrorist or a person having intent to commit a heinous crime. The dominant buyer of bulk SIMs is the group of people involved in bringing grey international incoming calls.