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Inclusion through platforms

Posted on April 11, 2016  /  0 Comments

The only platforms LIRNEasia is currently studying are those used for micro work in the IT and ITES sector. There our focus is on inclusion. But, this article shows we should consider looking at more platforms. Deepthi, the single mother of a teenager, says she has tried other types of self-employment. She worked as a goldsmith, nursing home careperson and, sometimes still makes shoes and bags at home.
Ever since Nirmita Narasimhan gave a colloquium on ICTs and disabilities at LIRNEasia in 2011, the topic has not been far from my mind. We included a component in the ongoing Myanmar project and are pushing hard to get assistive technologies into the policy discourse in that country. But my inability to get a single mainstream newspaper to write a substantive article on Sri Lanka’s ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite personal emails to influential journalists, shows we have a ways to go. It is in this context that I found this Indian article, originally published in a tech publication, Dataquest, of interest. But experts such as Javed Abidi, Honorary Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), feel that the issues facing the assistive technology market in India go much beyond that.
One principle LIRNEasia defended consistently over the discussions at UN ESCAP about the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) was that of open access. And despite many entreaties we held firm that the fiber had to owned by any entity other than the incumbent telecom operator in the country passed by the APIS fiber. From the time we conducted the Afghanistan sector performance review in 2011-12, I’ve been waiting for reports on the fiber investment paying off. But all that it appears to have yielded are vacuous presentations at international organizations. I hope that President Ghani will remove the fiber network from the dog-in-the-manger incumbent Afghan Telecom and allow the entire economy to benefit from the USD 130 million investment.
Twenty years ago, when NAFTA was still a novelty, Patrick Hadley and I looked at the interface of trade and communication policy. I recalled this when I was asked a question during a TV talk show about safeguards for culture in trade agreements. Looks like the issues we wrote about are becoming mainstream: China’s notorious online controls have long been criticized as censorship by human rights groups, businesses, Chinese Internet users and others. Now they have earned a new label from the American government: trade barrier. United States trade officials have for the first time added China’s system of Internet filters and blocks — broadly known as the Great Firewall — to an annual list of trade impediments.
I wish standard metrics would be used when CEOs talk about data use so that we can be sure that Telenor’s 52 percent is comparable to Ooredoo’s 86 percent. But anyway, it’s good to see Ooredoo’s emphasis on data is paying off: “We are thrilled that 86 per cent of our customers currently use our data services. We are seeing explosive growth in data traffic on the network, which has increased 5 times in the last year, driven by the affordability of Ooredoo Internet tariffs. We also see that data usage per subscriber, which reached an average of 580 megabytes per month in Q4, at par with what customers in Europe are consuming on their mobile phones,” he said. According to Meza, Ooredoo products and services are now available in over 100,000 retail outlets, in addition to more than 100 brand stores countrywide.
It was in 2009 that LIRNEasia first engaged systematically with the interaction of taxation and ICT promotional policies. This was when working on an assignment for the OECD. We had of course engaged with mobile-only taxation in Sri Lanka and in Bangladesh. But the issues were simple back then. No discriminatory taxes that treated mobile services as demerit goods.
We’ve been talking about the high level of data use in Myanmar. We were surprised. The Telenor Myanmar CEO has been surprised too. “The thing that surprised us most [was] the data – 52pc monthly data users is very high [in a] country with this type of GDP, so it’s promising in terms of what you can do on that platform,” he said. “When we add financial services, [that] will allow you over time to participate in the global internet … We have the opportunity to leapfrog.
That was the title of the two-hour TV talk show at ITN that I participated in yesterday. One does not expect new knowledge to emerge from a talk show, but this one was an exception. Illuminating information was disclosed by the Additional General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board in response to some statements I made. The disclosures can be seen in the Daily FT and Ravaya in a few days. Here below is my conclusion.
I am sitting here at a World Bank consultation on setting priorities for Bank lending in 2017-22. I was shocked by some of the comments, an example being: why isn’t there government-provided training for BPM? It seems that people are still stuck in government-centric thinking. What is the track record of government in providing training for globally-competitive industries? It has been a spectacular failure, except perhaps the case of the German Tech Institute, which is an extraordinary resource for Australia.
There was a popular emphasis on social media at INET Kathmandu. An entire session and an entire panel discussion was on the topic with various speakers telling their story. However, everyone realized the need for a robust internet for such platforms to work. While SMS was most effective during Nepal’s Earthquake response, data and voice were unstable. The use of social media during Nepal’s earthquake response came alive when other systems failed.
Mobile network operators know how many smartphones are active on their networks. But this information is not made public. One has to wait for the infrequent sample survey to find out, like below. According to a 2015 report by the Asia Foundation, an astounding 80 per cent of Cambodians access Facebook exclusively through phones, with only 3 per cent accessing it through computers. According to their data, there is an average of 1.
It is not only in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that there are moves to consolidate mobile markets. Afghanistan has joined the conversation. But the reasons are different and saddening. It seems that high-value customers are leaving the country. And the part about people not being able to charge their smartphones because the Taliban blew up a pylon .
Ignorance of the basic issues of services trade has created a fertile breeding ground for paranoids, xenophobes and protectionists. Some organizations, sadly, appear to foster ignorance, possibly because they want to foster paranoia. Others want to learn. In the latter category is the Chamber of Construction Industry. Here are the slides I plan to use as a basis for discussion next Monday, 28 March 2016.

Network shutdowns in the news again

Posted on March 22, 2016  /  0 Comments

This time it’s on account of elections in Congo. For an overview of the phenomenon, see CDT’s map and timeline. We first wrote about this problem in 2006. Then it was worked up into Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions. Image source
BSNL is on life support courtesy of the Indian taxpayer, whatever fictitious paper profits it conjures up. The authors of a recent op ed in Hindu Businessline see through the fiction. The government firms had their own share of sops such as (i) year-ahead early start in the assignment of both 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum in 2009 and (ii) reimbursement of about Rs. 10,000 crore of licence and spectrum charges during 2001-06, as part of commitment to BSNL corporatisation. However, the 6.
In our teaching-focused comparative work on electricity, we found there was a fundamental difference in the way the problem of costs was approached in Sri Lanka and on the sub-continent. In Sri Lanka, the focus was on the costs of NOT having power. In India, the focus was still on the costs of inputs, per se. That is, they cared about the costs of switching on another power source to meet peak demand. On that basis, they got along with load shedding and low prices, around half that charged from Sri Lankan subscribers.