Better late than never. Why it took multiple decades after the establishment of the Universal Service Fund to spend the money to connect the unconnected in India’s North East is the question. It’s not that there was a shortage of money. Bharti Airtel Ltd will set up 2,000 mobile towers across villages and national highways in the North East with the help of government funding, the company said in a press statement on Sunday. The telecom operator has signed an agreement with the department of telecommunications and the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to provide mobile services in 2,100 villages across Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh over the next 18 months.
We have been talking about the absence of clear market-exit rules in the countries we work in. The examples keep piling up. Indian operator Aircel may have no other option but to shutter its operations following the collapse of its merger with Reliance Communications (RCom). The operator has debts of around US$3.7B and continues to make losses.
Google’s core competence is search. But the millions now joining the Internet in India and similar countries do not appear to value search as much as the early adopters, according to company research. So Google is offering other products specifically designed for the Indian market, according to NYT: Many of the new Indian users have basic phones, which make it difficult for them to run certain apps or to store big files like videos. Data plans are limited, and despite a telecom price war that has cut the price of a megabyte of data by as much as 97 percent, some customers are unable to afford more data when they run out. Google’s Android software and apps like the Chrome browser, Maps and YouTube are often included with smartphones.
CEO Helani Galpaya was invited to speak at the Intersessional Panel of the UNCSTD. Her presentation was based on three themes at LIRNEasia.
We’ve been saying for long that voice will be just another app. Reliance Jio has made it so. Therefore, we should take statements from the senior managers of that company seriously: Spectrum allocation will be the most critical element in adoption of fifth-generation or 5G mobile networks in India, Reliance Jio Infocomm president Mathew Oommen has said. The comment comes in the wake of the government last month setting up a high-level panel with a corpus of Rs 500 crore for research and development to facilitate rolling out of 5G-based services by 2020. “The government has set its focus on 5G.
Once before, the Ambanis (Reliance) disrupted the Indian telecom market, and in the process changed the dynamics of markets across the developing world. This was the “fixed mobility” stunt they pulled off around 2000, when CDMA phones were sold as being usable only within defined areas. But they were actually mobile phones and the company made it possible for the phones to be used across multiple areas. On unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence was to drive down the costs of CDMA network equipment and handsets dramatically. CDMA, which did make sense for Sri Lanka in 1999, made eminent sense in 2003.
India cannot advance from 1st place. So they should be happy about their place in the AT Kearney Index. Just a few years ago, I was asking what the Government of Bangladesh could do to get on the Index. Not only are they on it, they are advancing. Sri Lanka can be happy about advancing 3 places.
Serious efforts are being made in India to move people away from cash. When I was changing money at Chennai airport for a two-day visit, they foisted a debit card on me. But tourists are a minuscule part of the Indian market. It appears there will be a lot of innovation and competition in that space: The launch of Tez sees Google compete with payment services already available from mobile operators, traditional finance providers, e-Commerce companies and mobile wallet specialist firms including Paytm – which so far has 200 million users. Additionally, chat apps with huge user-bases are at various stages of entering the fray.
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:
We are inviting Proposals from potential Bidders to conduct comparative nationwide studies of ICT access and use in 2017 in India and Bangladesh. The full RFP is downloadable here. Please also see our Technical Proposal Template, Financial Proposal Template, and Sample Locations before submitting the proposals. Deadline for submissions is 10 August 2017.
At LIRNEasia, we are looking at how online freelancing platforms can make life easier and better at the bottom of the pyramid. In Bengaluru, a few cases stand out. First, some urban freelancers have found means of circumventing platform fees. Second, women in semi-urban areas don’t seem to trust the internet enough to consider working online.
I recently had the opportunity to participate at the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Institute 2017 held at the University of Oxford thanks to the generous funding from the Ford Foundation. A variety of topics pertaining to Internet governance such as Internet architecture, net neutrality and multistakeholderism were discussed. The sometimes-divergent views from those from those from different backgrounds (such as civil society, government, corporates) served as food for thought. The conversation that ensued on balancing between the freedom of expression and hate speech will serve as a useful input to LIRNEasia’s upcoming work on online behaviour in Myanmar. Here I also got the chance to present LIRNEasia’s research on free and subsidized data in Myanmar and India.
Governments should not be flying blind. Now the tools of big data are available to reduce their ignorance. But we will not be able to use big data effectively if the narrative is dominated by utopian hype and dystopian scare mongering. For that we need effective, fit-for-purpose public public policy and regulation for big data (including algorithms), not remnants of 1970s thinking such as informed consent and strict purpose specification. For example, the above shibboleths do not provide any remedy for the real harms of lack of security of data storage.
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.
I was working on some comparative numbers. Most of these are recent and from reliable, credible sources. Interesting insights. Most people think Facebook use is a subset of Internet use. But in SE Asia, Internet use is always lower than Facebook use.