General — Page 6 of 245


We have been of the opinion that electricity is an important as ICTs in putting money in people’s pockets and hope in their hearts. We have worked on how to improve electricity service and continue to work on different aspects of what is a multi-faceted problem. We would love to work on electricity in Myanmar. They sure need help. Unfortunately, Phyo Min Thein’s party, the National League for Democracy, has failed to deliver.
I have yet to receive a good answer to the question of why regulators require specific spectrum bands to be used for specific modes of “last mile” technologies. The most persuasive reasons have been tied to revenue maximization for government. The technical reasons are not very persuasive. It appears the Myanmar government is going to make USD 80 million x 3 (or 4) by giving this authorization. But anyway, it is good that 4G is being rolled out in this country where most phones are smartphones and are thus likely to be able to use 4G with just a change in settings.
I was not expecting media coverage for the discussions on BIMSTEC in Bangkok over the weekend. But there was quite a comprehensive report in a Bangladesh publication. Connectivity gaps, in terms of absent or insufficient road and rail connections, exist and need to be addressed and public-private partnerships can do so if handled intelligently, Samarajiva continued. The government must be involved to clear rights of way and because they can raise low cost money for infrastructure, while private entities can mobilise competitiveness, which he considers crucial. “Do not allow state monopolies to control them,” he said.

Priorities for BIMSTEC

Posted on May 28, 2017  /  0 Comments

At the end of a conference celebrating 20 years of BIMSTEC and 100 of Chulalongkorn University, I was on a panel that was tasked with identifying priorities for the organization. Given there were seven panelists each proposing three priorities and some more suggestions coming up from the audience, there was then a need to develop a rule to rank them. I proposed that we ask what tasks could only be done by a plurilateral organization and give those priority. For example, lowering of non-tariff barriers affecting simple trade in goods could be done bilaterally or even unilaterally. But creating the conditions for global production networks could not be done bilaterally.
It was almost seven years ago that Under Secretary General Noeleen Hayzer opened the door for our conversation on how to lower what we paid for Internet in Asia with ESCAP. Now we have a formal resolution: At the 73rd Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) member countries expressed support to developing seamless regional broadband connectivity, by adopting the resolution titled “Implementation of the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative through regional cooperation”. The resolution was presented by Bangladesh, co-sponsored by China, Fiji, Islamic Republic of Iran, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and Thailand. ESCAP member States recognized that access to information and communications technology (ICT) are fundamental to reducing the digital divide, alleviating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other internationally agreed development goals in Asia and the Pacific. For us, this is good, but symbolic.
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Pathfinder Foundation organized a roundtable on social market economy and SMEs in Colombo today. Among the Sri Lankan research that was shared was a shortened version of a slideset from our 2011-13 research program. With regard to social market economy, I said that the German model could not be transplanted here. Lacking their almost religious fiscal discipline, we were likely to create an even bigger mess by guaranteeing social and economic safeguards in the Constitution. Their model rested on tripartite decision making system that gave a powerful role to trade unions.
Call for young scholar applications for CPRsouth2017 from Myanmar citizens and residents Selected Young Scholars will participate in an interactive training program, along with international participants. The curriculum will emphasize practical aspects of taking ICT-related research to policy. Young scholars will then attend the conference, which showcases policy relevant research. Tutorials are scheduled for the August 28-30, 2017, prior to the CPRsouth conference.  The conference – which is an integral part of the training – begins on August 30 and ends on September 01.
The ill-considered proposal in the 2017 Budget to compel all e commerce transactions to be conducted over a yet-to-be-designed government platform has come up for discussion again. Lahiru Pathmalal, CEO of Takas, one of the Sri Lanka’s more visible e-commerce businesses had this to say to the Sunday Times: “What is ideal is a tax holiday for e-commerce/tech related business that makes heavy investments into growth,” he said. “There has been discussion in regard to travel related booking engines being taxed such as AirBNB and Bookings.com. I believe taxing of booking engines is be ill timed,” he claimed.
Expression of opinion is one of the things one can do on the Internet. We at LIRNEasia use it to communicate our evidence-based views. Our website is basically a blog. Evan Williams was a co-creator of Blogger and the largest shareholder of Twitter. He believes the model is broken.
The second panel was on digital rights and multistakeholderism. I did not think there can be much debate about a Rorschach inkblot so I devoted only one slide to it and made some passing comments, which still managed to elicit some response from the people who live under the protection of the concept. Digital rights was where the robust exchange occurred. Not because of the relatively uncontroversial issue of governments being prevented from arbitrarily shutting down the Internet and the underlying telecom networks that I proposed. But it was because one of the panelists proposed the wholesale importation of the European data protection regime and rights such as the “right to be forgotten.
Yesterday I participated in two panel discussions at the Sri Lanka Internet Governance Forum 2017. IGFs are primarily intended to permit an exchange of ideas among public, private and civil society stakeholders, helping to make the overall process of governance better. Government was represented on both panels as was the private sector. The audience was not the most informed or energetic, but that was possibly because the organizers conducted proceedings in English. In the first panel the theme was SDGs.
The sane faction of the opponents of trade liberalization had organized a Citizen’s Commission to work up a report on what Sri Lanka’s national trade policy should be. But it was not a qualified or balanced Commission, with only one economist (even that, an ideological economist, as evidenced by the manner in which he introduced me) and one person with experience in international trade. Every single protectionist appears to have been invited to present their views before the Commission. I was preceded by one of the leaders of the anti-CEPA protests in 2010. There is value in these kinds of fact-gathering and report preparation activities outside government.

Asia rising

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This was a key point I made in yesterday’s presentation to the “Citizens’ Commission on a National Trade Policy”: 1.0 The future is Asia. Most models of international trade assume that greater trade will occur with nearby countries than with those which are far distant. At present, Sri Lanka’s goods exports violate this assumption, going primarily to the US and Europe. This was also the case with Mode 2 service exports in tourism until recently.
I can’t recall exactly where (possibly Barcelona where I may have moderated a session she was in), but there was this memory of a conversation with the dynamic Omabola Johnson, about performance contracts that had been entered into by Ministers in her country. It was triggered during a TV talk show last week. Part 2 of show is still not online. As I was working on comments on the Myanmar Communication Regulatory Commission bill (basically embedded in the context of principal-agent theory), it came to mind I should throw out the idea in relation to the difficult principal-agent problem represented by the Sri Lankan Cabinet. So I did: There is precedent.
A man buys himself a Rs 40 knife, and uses it to kill his wife. He later tells the police that she used her mobile phone too much – he suspected she was being unfaithful. He intended only to cut her ear off. But in a rage he killed her. A “reporter” calls LIRNEasia Chairman, Rohan Samarajiva, to ask him what constitutes “appropriate” use of mobile phones.
My advisor was one of the principal expert witnesses testifying against AT&T in a series of court cases that led to the breaking up of what was then the world’s largest company. William Baumol was the principal expert witness testifying on behalf of AT&T. He was thus a familiar name. I read his work and critiqued it. What was an easy target was his theory of contestable markets.