Prof. Rohan Samarajiva was recently invited to the ’99 Minutes’ show hosted by Shan Wijethunga on the national television corporation of Sri Lanka, ‘Rupavahini’. The full panel discussion on energy regulation (specifically electricity) in Sri Lanka, can be found below:
The Jakarta Post Opinion by Ibrahim Kholilul Rohman and Ayesha Zainudeen The Indonesian government is considering a ban on Facebook amid concerns of privacy breaches and potential abuse of the platform to influence the upcoming presidential elections through fake news and hate speech. Using the indicative survey data collected by LIRNEasia in 2017, on use of social media among other online services by 1,200 Indonesian citizens, the following article by Ibrahim Kholilul Rohman (Research Fellow at United Nations University-Electronic Governance) and Ayesha Zainudeen (Senior Research Manager at LIRNEasia) argues against such a ban. The authors argue that a ban on Facebook or other social media in Indonesia could have serious economic impacts, and could end up being futile, given the recent experience in Sri lanka: “Certainly, a deeper analysis, using nationally representative data is required to better understand this phenomenon in Indonesia. But as a starting point, banning Facebook cannot be seen as a wise decision at the moment considering that people are starting to economize this platform, particularly in the SME sector which plays an important role in Indonesia’s economy.” The article has been published in Bahasa Indonesia by business news outlet Kontan.
After a weeklong blackout, the Sri Lankan government lifted its nationwide ban on social media on Thursday. Facebook and several other platforms had been shut down after days of violence targeting Muslims in the Kandy district, a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims.
The Sunday Times Plus – Review of “Numbercaste” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne by Rohan Samarajiva “I have long been a reader of science fiction not just for entertainment, but also for insights useful for my research and teaching. After all, the very word cyberspace was coined by William Gibson, a luminary of the cyberpunk sub-genre. I like all forms of sci-fi, but find near-future science fiction the most illuminating. So I not only read, but recommend. A friend teaching about social aspects of ICTs once explained she had trouble following my reading recommendations: the plots were mostly formulaic quests, she said.
Myanmar Times Opinion by Namali Premawardhana Namali Premawardhana’s op-ed based on the ITU’s Measuring the Information Society 2017 report and LIRNEasia’s own survey results has been published in Myanmar’s leading English newspaper, the Myanmar Times. Here are two of the summary paras: Two important aspects of ICT development which the ITU does not address are women and digital literacy. Myanmar’s story of ICT access, use and skills among women and other marginalised communities is less impressive than the broader narrative. The 2016 LIRNEasia data revealed that although more women in Myanmar own a phone now than in 2015, men were 28pc more likely to own a mobile phone. In addition, nearly half of mobile handset owners require help to perform basic activities with a phone, such as installation of an app, creating logins and passwords and adjusting settings.
LIRNEasia has been working on agriculture since 2006. Most recently, in the context of the Inclusive Information Society project that is being wrapped up, I was talking about GAP compliance with an agri-producer connected to global supply chains standing in a paddy field in Kandy on which he was growing bitter gourd for export to Europe, where among other things, he described the various authorizations he had to obtain because he was cultivating on land designated as being for rice. I recalled a conversation with Helani Galpaya several years ago upon her return from a field visit connected to our agriculture research. She said, we’re looking to solve information and knowledge problems, but the biggest barriers the farmers face is with regard to land. The 2018 Budget Speech proposes to relax the constraints that have been artificially imposed on what farmers can do with their land.
Improving the quality of policy proposals in the Budget Daily FT Opinion by Rohan Samarajiva I have been immersed in discussions in various media platforms about the 2018 Sri Lanka Budget. A budget speech seeks to communicate the direction of government policy to other economic actors. While it is a coherent and forward-looking document overall, the 2018 Budget does contain some problematic proposals that will have to be walked back or quietly buried. In this op-ed published in the Financial Times, I discussed a solution: Every Budget Speech includes complex policy measures. Given the traditions associated with the Budget Speech, it is not possible to conduct public consultations on each of the measures beforehand.
Sri Lanka has not one, but two, government-owned TV channels. They tend to be used for propaganda, but there are occasions when they act like normal news channels, serving the public interest in understanding what is going on. Last week, for example, I was happy to be on a talk show in the midst of a breakdown of fuel supplies debating the issues with a leader of a trade union combine that is trying its hardest to roll back even the current nominal liberalization and restore some kind of retrograde state monopoly. This week, I was invited to come on the show again to discuss the budget. I am generally supportive of the thrust of the 2018 budget proposals, which may be why they invited me.
It was in 1998, almost 20 years ago, that I was invited to a meeting at the Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka in my capacity as Director General of Telecommunications. They had identified a high point in the city of Colombo to locate ALL the cellular antenna towers and they wanted me to concur with their plans. I explained that the very concept of cells required multiple towers in multiple locations. Twenty years later, the same ignorance is being displayed again. A Minister of the government is making speeches in Parliament about how all of Sri Lanka can be served by nine towers.
In 2016 LIRNEasia went to Jaffna for fun. Finally there was a hotel big enough to house our large group so we decided on Jaffna as the location of our annual trip. Many interactions followed, for example on our work on online freelancing. This longer piece was first published in Tamil in Thinakkural. It is interesting that the Tamil paper carried the data tables, but the Financial Times chose to delete them (correction: deleted only in the online version).
Two and a half weeks after the Sri Lanka Broadband Summit, the coverage continues, this time in the highest-circulation English language newspaper, the Sunday Times. The Sri Lankan government should be focusing more on investment and not subsidies to develop telecommunications in the country, says Rohan Samarajiva Chairman of LIRNEasia. Addressing the second Broadband Forum held at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo recently Mr. Samarajiva said that the Government said, “The Sri Lankan government should focused more on investment and not subsidies. Taxing incoming and outgoing calls in this day and age is silly.
Helani Galpaya and Peter Cihon were interviewed on their work on user perspectives on zero-rated content in Myanmar. The article draws on findings from both Mozilla commissioned qualitative research, as well the nationally representative surveys on ICT use and information needs. “In Myanmar and a lot of developing countries, Facebook is the internet, whether it’s free or not,” Galpaya said. Cihon noted that in some cases, Telenor Free users don’t distinguish between Facebook and the rest of the internet. They can access the full range of the social media platform’s features, and because Facebook is a dominant force in the country, people don’t feel incentivized to look for other resources.
The decision of a significant court case with relevance to regulatory practice was issued recently. The Chairman and Director General of the Sri Lanka Telecom Regulatory Commission were sentenced to jail and were required to pay substantial fines after being found guilty of criminally misappropriating USD 3.9 million from the stand-alone fund of the Commission. Because this is of relevance to regulatory practice, I wrote up a short note and am thinking of fleshing it out as a journal article. Suggestions and comments are welcome.
I was pleased to that the journalist had chosen to report on how we obtained the data on the massive amounts of money lying fallow in government accounts. More researchers should consider using RTI requests to obtain data. “The money has been collected, and it’s in the Treasury not being spent,” LIRNEasia Chairman Professor Rohan Samarajiva said at the 2nd Sri Lanka Broadband Forum organized by the Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Ministry and Huawei. According to Telecommunications Regulatory Commission data he obtained through a Right to Information request, the government had collected US$351 million by the end of 2015. Sri Lanka’s Universal Service Fund is less burdensome on telecom companies—compared to other countries where a fee is levied from annual revenue—since just US$ 0.
It is sad that government suppliers shielded from competitive pressure do not learn, and keep repeating the same mistakes. Our Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan has several comments in this Daily Star piece about the problems with how SEA-ME-WE 5 has been handled by the government companies. Though the task of laying the second submarine cable up to Kuakata landing station in Patuakhali was completed eight months ago for Tk 660 crore, the cable could not be connected to the inland network due to the BTCL’s failure to ensure an uninterrupted inland link. The government announced inaugurating the commercial use of the cable in mid-March. Later, it deferred the date to July 31.
Shazna Zuhyle, a researcher from Colombo-based LIRNEasia, a regional policy research body will chair an International Telecommunication Union expert group meeting. The 8th meeting of the Expert Group on Telecommunication/ICT Indicators will start on September 12 in Geneva. It will consider a revision to the current data, messaging and voice price benchmarks, which are used by international organizations to rank countries and built composite indices to measure development goals. EconomyNext report.