The telecommunications sector in Myanmar was in a nascent stage at the time of conception of this project. Before liberalization there were only two mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 individuals as recently as 2012. The liberalization of the market in 2013 has been followed by significant growth in the sector to date; this is reflected in the telecommunications affordability, access and use indicators. Myanmar ranked 140th out of 175 in the ITU’s ICT development index, four places ahead of Lao PDR and ahead of both Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is within striking distance of India. The objective of this project was to catalyze Myanmar’s movement towards becoming an inclusive, networked economy that was making advancements on both social and economic fronts.
LIRNEasia focused on taking an all-fronts approach in this endeavor. It focuses on addressing, the four elements in the Internet ecosystem in a single project: infrastructure enabling affordable connectivity services, skilled users, low cost and user-friendly devices, and attractive content and applications. The expected outcome of this combined, all-fronts approach is that it increases Internet subscriptions and users per 100 to a level above that of its comparator countries.
The project consists of three kinds of activities: research, capacity building, and policy advocacy.
LIRNEasia looks to facilitate evidence-based policy and regulation. Much of the core evidence required for policy intervention is to stem from quantitative and qualitative research carried out by the organization. It conducted two nationally representative household and individual ICT use surveys in 2015 and 2016. The survey conducted in 2015 under the previous project/research cycle was the first nationally representative ICT use survey to be carried out in the country. In both years, dissemination events and meetings were held in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw to share the findings with policy makers – including the relevant Union Deputy Minister, the private sector, civil society organizations and the media. The two surveys are key parts of the impact assessment of mobile phones that LIRNEasia is conducting. The results from the baseline survey gave rise to a series of questions related to gender disparities in ICT access. A joint qualitative study with the Connected Women programme of the GSM Association (GSMA, the industry body representing mobile operators worldwide) was undertaken (with the majority of funds coming from GSMA, while all research was conducted by LIRNEasia). The resulting report was completed in time for the Mobile World Congress in February 2016 and officially launched in Yangon in April 2016. Qualitative research was also conducted on the use of free and subsidized data packages in Myanmar, with co-funding from Mozilla and the Google Fellowship programme. The first round of broadband quality of service experience (BBQoSE) testing took place in May 2016 in collaboration with M-Lab (Measurement Lab, a consortium founded by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute). The results were disseminated to the three operators through a series of face-to-face meetings in June 2016.
The second focus of action in this project is capacity building, firstly targeting MIDO (a named partner institution in this project) so that they are able to become a financially independent, evidence-based research and advocacy organization, and secondly the policymakers, regulators and civil society in Myanmar who can influence ICT policy. LIRNEasia’s finance experts spent a week in Yangon to conduct financial training for MIDO’s finance department in April 2016. MIDO’s communications officer has worked extensively with the LIRNEasia to organize dissemination events and courses, and plans are underway to conduct further training on this front.
Two courses titled ‘Social media and ICTs for governance: E-gov for parliamentarians’ were conducted in July 2016. 20 members of the Lower and Upper houses of the Union Parliament attended the first course. The second course was carried out over two days within the premises of the Yangon Regional Parliament, recording an attendance of over 80 parliamentarians on each day.
Work on policy advocacy has commenced in selected areas. During this reporting period, LIRNEasia addressed the improvement of ICT infrastructure by submitting responses to policy documents including the draft Telecommunications Masterplan and a consultation paper regarding the allocation of spectrum frequencies in early 2016. In a visit to Myanmar in early 2016, the team from LIRNEasia, MIDO and CIS (the Center for Internet and Society, India, a named partner institution in this project) started work towards catalysing ICT access for the differently abled people of Myanmar, by consulting with multiple experts who are interested in enabling wider access to digital content for the blind. At LIRNEasia’s invitation, a leading expert in the development of software solutions for the blind flew to Yangon and met with key stakeholders – progress is being made in identifying and resolving errors since his visit. Steps are also being taken to promote the development of content accessible by the blind.