General


“We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up.” This is a quotation from Julian Gewirtz’s book, Unlikely Partners, that I will be using in my keynote address at the University of Peradeniya Humanities and Social Sciences Conference on 28 July 2017. It was in a conversation between Deng Xiaoping and Robert McNamara.
When Anders Henten decided to publish one of the outputs of our research project in a print-only journal as Henten, A.; Samarajiva, R.; Melody, W.H. (2002), The next step for telecom regulation: ICT convergence regulation or multisector utilities regulation?
We first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, in relation to the conflict areas in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. We started formulating the issues in terms of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions around the time of the Arab Spring. I wrote the main piece on the subject, sitting in a hotel room in Teheran in February 2011. Since those days, the practice of shutting down networks has become more common, and more sophisticated. The Global Network Initiative has put out a one-pager on the subject: “GNI urges all governments to consult our one-page guide and to weigh carefully the human rights, economic and reputational harms that can flow from the decision to disrupt public access to vital communications services and platforms,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg.
A lot of the discussion in the concluding sessions focused on implementation, as intended. Here is a participant writing about the highlights in Setopati, a digital newspaper: Similarly, senior Director at Nepal Telecommunications Authority Anand Raj Khanal said broadband could be leveraged to graduate country from the least developed status to the developing on by 2022. Arguing that NTA’s primary role is the infrastructure development in terms of expansion of broadband, Director Khanal expressed doubt whether the contracts NTA had with Nepal Telecoms and other companies would be completed on time to ensure broadband access to people. According to him, contracts were signed this April and May to ensure broadband internet access for 11 quake-hit districts. He too admitted, “We’re smart in policy formulation but weak at implementation.
Somalia has suffered internet outage, as its only submarine cable – Eastern Africa Submarine System (EASSy) – has been snapped by the anchor of a cargo ship recently. Few affluent users are online through the expensive satellite backups while most of the users remain off-line. Bangladesh was also exposed to similar risk until six operators plugged the country with India across the land borders in 2012. Mogadishu should rush for overland links with Kenya for the resilience of its international connectivity. Otherwise, it will remain vulnerable to frequent outages because of the careless merchant mariners.
LIRNEasia carried out qualitative research on user perspectives of Internet use in India among respondents from low and middle income households. It is a part of a series of research looking at the use of free and subsidised data in the developing world. The research was carried out with financial support from Mozilla, the UK Government’s Department for International Development, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. India was an interesting case in the zero rating debate. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) passed the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Service Regulations in 2016.
Comcast has for long been cast in the role of opponent of net neutrality. But according to this report, the roles are beginning to blur. “We support permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules,” said Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, which once successfully sued the F.C.C.
In late 2015 I wrote that: “All the fuss has been about Digital India. But India has fallen back six places to 131, despite improving its IDI score from 2.14 to 2.69 in the ICT Development Index. Nepal, which does not have a funded and actively promoted digital strategy, has advanced four places to 136th place.
LIRNE asia CEO, Helani Galpaya, was recently appointed to the board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD).
LIRNEasia is calling for proposals from field research organisations for the conduct of comparative nationwide quantitative studies of ICT access and use in Cambodia and Pakistan. The deadline for submission is 0800hrs Sri Lanka time, 24 July 2017. Details of the study and instructions to interested parties are contained within the following request for proposals (RFP), which can be downloaded here. Interested parties should request Annexes 3-5 to the RFP by way of an email to procurement[at]lirneasia[dot]net.  

White spaces, again

Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on July 11, 2017  /  0 Comments

It was in 2007 that we first wrote about white spaces. Ten years later, the talk continues. The technology is sometimes known as “super Wi-Fi” because it behaves like regular Wi-Fi but uses low-powered television channels to cover far greater distances than wireless hot spots. It is also more powerful than cellular service because the frequencies can penetrate concrete walls and other obstacles. Promoting the white-spaces technology could reap rewards for tech companies: The remaining 24.
As people live longer and elder dependency (ratio of adults to working population) increases. How to give the elderly a productive life without imposing a heavy burden on the taxpayer will be one of the most important public policy challenges. The Economist examines the issues, looking, among other things at, ICTs: Encouragingly, in every centre for seniors visited for this report, from New York to Seoul, the most popular classes were in the use of smartphones and tablets, often sponsored by telecoms companies who spotted an opportunity. If insurers and health-care providers do not come up with a funding model, tech and telecoms companies may eat their lunch.
This is getting to be boring. Every few years, decision makers at TRAI and DoT float balloons about reducing the USO levy. We write commending it. Nothing happens. Another official said that besides increasing the payment tenure, the 5% levy towards Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) could also be reduced, more so as it would bring down the licence fee component for telcos without impacting the government’s revenues.
We spent a lot of time thinking about service-quality in relation to electricity and telecom services in 2012-14. We organized the 2013 SAFIR core training course around the theme of service quality. But the work has more to contribute. The current controversies around private medical education has brought to the fore many neglected issues related to service industries, including the question of service quality or standards. The op-ed seeking to respond some of these erroneous claims states: As shown by the example of automobile service above, the burden on the regulatory agency is much less when competition exists.
The talk is about 2G networks being shut down and the frequencies repurposed for other uses. But of course this step will take a lot more time in countries where feature phones still predominate. Perhaps Myanmar will be the first. The first 2G network was commercially launched on the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa) in 1991. In December 2016, Australia’s largest mobile operator Telstra closed its 2G network, which was in operation for more than 23 years.
In a “parable” I wrote some time back, I indicated that it made sense for companies such as Google to build their own international backhaul capacity or enter into joint ventures to build the cables. Telegeography says it is so: But there is a cautionary note. A lot of the build—or a lot of the demand for new capacity build is coming from content providers. Really big content providers. And within that group just a handful of companies.