In the Media


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.
We love that people read our research. But we would love it more if they try to do justice to how real people use the Internet.
Because of the TRAI decision outlawing zero rating, various workarounds were developed. With Mozilla funding, LIRNEasia conducted research on how they were being used in the New Delhi area. Yesterday’s Indian Express carried a story: