India


Understanding Jio

Posted by on October 7, 2017  /  0 Comments

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.
The government predicted rainfall more than 150 mm on the 25th of May. Over 500 mm of rain fell. Technically, they were not wrong (550 mm is within the range of “more than 150 mm”), but obviously, forecasts like this might as well not be made. [an error was corrected in the above para] But it is wrong to condemn the Met Department which operates even without Doppler radar, though they have been talking about it since 2012. But as discussed below, Doppler radar is old and can only tell about large rain drops.
Pathfinder Foundation and Carnegie India organized a conference on connectivity. I was asked to speak on air connectivity, which I was happy to do, it being a rather neglected subject. The paper is still not ready for prime time, some of the data not having yet been provided by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. But here is the conclusion: There may be marginal possibilities for increasing passenger and freight movements between India and Sri Lanka through reforms in air travel and visa policies which could possibly be included in the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). The construction of additional international airports, such as those in Jaffna and Trincomalee, where significant Sri Lankan Tamil populations live may also contribute.
In our formal submission to the PUCSL in 2013, we highlighted the urgency of connecting the two grids. The case was made in public and private. Obviously we welcome the statement below, despite the fact that “plans are underway” is a favorite weasel phrase of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy: Plans are underway to connect Sri Lanka’s power grid with the Indian power grid to boost power generation within the next five years. “The Sri Lankan government is already having talks with the Indian government on this project,” according to Chairman of the Electricity Board (CEB) Anura Wijayapala. Full report.

Indigenous scholarship

Posted by on March 29, 2017  /  0 Comments

I had heard about papers on Islamic science policy being picked as best papers and given prominence over conventional social science papers at an international conference organized by a Malaysian university. But my first direct experience of this indigenization trend came at the international conference I spoke at last week at Manipal University. A faculty member from a university in Nepal presented a paper that sought to position communication policy within some kind of Hindu scriptural framework. I thought it was just a harmless oddity and tuned out, until I heard the professors in the audience make earnest attempts to respectfully engage with the reformulation of communication policy according to scriptures. The questions were about the nation state, which is the necessary context of policy, which was the theme of the conference.
Reliance shook up India’s markets once, with what appeared to be an oxymoronic strategy of limited mobility. It worked. The market was transformed and the effects reverberated across the developing world. In a different guise Reliance is back. The market is being transformed.
India was reported to have had 638,596 villages, of which 593,731 are inhabited according to the last census. Over 9 percent of the inhabited villages, 55,000, are said to lack mobile coverage. Sinha said that, according to the 2011 Census, there are 55,000 villages that don’t have mobile connectivity. The government, he added, had drawn up a plan to ensure the villages are brought on the mobile telephony network, especially in hilly areas and Left-wing extremism-affected regions. Congress member Renuka Chowdhury pointed out that mobile towers had been destroyed in Maoist violence.