India


Not many are familiar with ‘line rooms’ in Sri Lanka’s estates. Fewer have ever visited one. These are the dwellings of the labourers – descendants of the migrants brought here by British planters from in nearby Madras state in India staring from 1827 to work in estates for meager salaries under austere conditions. Human development conditions have significantly improved since then, but some of them still call a 4 m x 4 m room with a smaller kitchen ‘home’. Meet Parameshvari.
As those who have followed the discussion on universal service fees on this blog know, universal service fees are usually charged from a company (actually the company collects the money from customers and gives it to the government). The payments go to dedicated fund, from which it is disbursed (or not, for the most part) to connect more people to the network. India has one of the highest universal service fees in the world–5% of total revenues. We were hopeful, after years of presenting evidence to the government, that this would be reduced (though our preference is for its complete phasing out). The reduction of the rate from 5% to 3% was almost done, but suddenly it has been halted due to Finance Ministry objections.
Since 2005, LIRNEasia has been critical of the very high amount (5%) charged from Indian telecom consumers through the operators and then left unspent in government accounts (approx. USD 4 billion at last count). Our criticisms were presented in multiple forms including a book chapter. We made them known to the leadership of the Department of Telecommunications in face-to-face conversations. Most recently, I discussed the harm caused by taxing poor people to purportedly serve poor people and then keeping the money unspent at a UNCTAD meeting on trade and regulation.
At the “multi-year expert meeting” on services, development and trade: the regulatory and institutional dimension, organized by UNCTAD in Geneva, there was rich discussion on the increasing importance of regulation in an environment in which services trade is assuming greater importance. As attention shifts to services trade (for example, the most important element of the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between India and Sri Lanka, is the services chapter), there is of necessity a need to start looking at regulatory restrictions on services trade. Tariffs do not apply to services, so the only barriers are opaque, arbitrary and discriminatory regulatory provisions. This has been well recognized in telecom, with the reference paper on regulation being one of the key contributions to liberalization made by the GATS. The issue being raised at the UNCTAD meeting was whether there was value in exploring the regulatory aspects of trade in other infrastructure services.
Two surveys of India’s telecom regulatory and policy environments conducted in 2006 and 2008 by LIRNEasia show a dramatic increase in the score for universal service policies since the policy changes effected in 2007. From being ranked lowest among six emerging Asian countries, India now has close to the highest score for universal service policy and implementation in the mobile subsector, the most dynamic and important of all. What is also noteworthy is that the 2006 score for universal service was the lowest among the six policy and regulatory dimensions that were assessed then. By 2008, that unenviable position had been passed to the dimension of management of scarce resources (spectrum). The increase in the USO score in the fixed subsector was 36 percent; and in the mobile sector 64 percent.
The results of the 2008 TRE research were presented at a well attended event in New Delhi on 6 March 2009. The picture above shows Mr R.N. Prabhakar, Member of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India responding to points raised in the discussion. In the background are members of the panel, including LIRNEasia Chair and CEO Rohan Samarajiva.

India’s urban-rural telecom gap?

Posted on March 9, 2009  /  0 Comments

An AFP story published today talks about the Indian boom in mobile connections, despite all round economic gloom: a record 15m new connections were added in India in January 2009 according to the article. India’s “mobile revolution” is still mainly seen in the cities, but the real prize for phone companies is the vast rural market, where nearly 70 percent of the 1.1-billion-strong population live, analysts say. By the end of January, 34.5 percent of the population owned a telephone, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said.
Detailed findings from LIRNEasia’s Telecom Regulatory Environment (TRE) study conducted in 2008, have been published in Voice&Data, India’s only magazine on the business of communications, including analyses on the business, technology and regulatory aspects of Indian telecom and networking: Telecom growth is phenomenal in some emerging nations of the Asia Pacific region, but the risk attached to investments in each country varies. Pakistan scores the highest in five parameters, while India tops in one in the Telecom Regulatory Environment survey. Read the full article here.  Findings from the TRE study were presented in Delhi, India, last week, at a panel discussion, co-organized by Voice&Data.
In the third round, LIRNEasia has extended the testing to one more location. With that we have tested two packages in New Delhi (MTNL and AirTel), two in Chennai (BSNL and AirTel), five in Colombo (SLT ADSL, Dialog WiMax, Dialog 3G, Dialog 3G Unlimited and Mobitel Zoom 890) and two in Dhaka (SKYbd and Sirius). A strenuous task for five teams, no doubt, who took readings at different times staring from 8 am and went up to 11.00 pm (some had to spend nights at offices) but results are worth the effort. What did we learn?
LIRNEasia will present findings from the Telecom Regulatory Environment (TRE) 2008 study at a panel discussion today, in Delhi, India. Organized in association with Voice and Data, the event entitled, ‘The Challenging Policy and Regulatory Environment’, will be held at Le Meridien Hotel, Delhi from 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Contention Ratios varying from 1:50 and 1:20 (Can be relaxed a bit in residential as the links are not shared) is what LIRNEasia and TeNet jointly proposed, but Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) thought it best to adopt 1:50 and 1:30. According to ‘Guidelines for service providers providing Internet/broadband services for ensuring better quality of service’TRAI issued on March 2, 2009, ISPs are expected not only to maintain contention ratios above these values but also be open to subscribers on what they will deliver – instead of promises they cannot make. In addition we received some publicity from Indian online media. Good to know people start taking notes. More on LIRNEasia’s Rapid Response program here.
Given coincidence of the SAARC Minister’s meeting and the release of LIRNEasia’s twice-a-year price benchmarks, I was tempted to see how much progress had been achieved, with regard to the Colombo Declaration’s para 6 which called for low intra-SAARC international voice tariffs. Not much progress to report, unfortunately. On the fixed side, the only countries with intra-SAARC tariffs lower than to non-SAARC countries, are Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan, because it has a special price for India (other SAARC prices are high) and Nepal because it has not changed its extremely high tariff structure (and the lower-by-comparison intra-SAARC prices). Lanka Bell in Sri Lanka offers low prices to India, but our methodology does not capture that, because we take the prices of the largest operator, SLT.
The intention of this blog is to share the user requirements captured during the business analysis phase of the real time biosurveillance program. The state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan business cases are documented in the report. Any changes can be discussed in this blog itself.
Last year, several LIRNEasia researchers were pleased to work with Nokia on explaining the reasons behind South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) being the only countries with a TCO [total cost of ownership] below USD 5/month, when the average for almost 80 countries studied was USD 13.15. According to the latest issue of Nokia’s Expanding Horizons magazine (p. 10), the TCO has come down further, to USD 10.88.
The village Health Nurse (VHN) is a rural last mile primary health care worker – duties ranging from holding medical camps in schools to running a Health Service Center (HSC) in the village providing primary health care to walking door-to-door providing antenatal and post natal care. These mobile services require proper documentation; the paper work is later converted to statistics that is reviewed by the district and state Health Officials. An idea Sir Gee is to replace the 2 heavy bags with a 100gram mobile phone with built in applets to capture the same data. The Real Time Biosurveillance Program, an m-Health pilot carried out by Indian Institute of Technology Madras’s Rural Technology and Business Incubator in the Thirupathur block, to begin with, will be field testing the mobile concept of capturing the necessary and sufficient morbidity data for aggregate reports and disease surveillance. Lessons from this pilot will provide enough insight to develop the remaining applets to replace the heavy bags.
Mr Narayana Murthy of Infosys has always been a straight-talker and a clear thinker. The Sri Lanka President deserves congratulations on picking him as his advisor. He will give good advice. We hope the President will take the advice. Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday appointed N R Narayana Murthy, chairman of India’s Infosys Technologies, as his international advisor on information technology, the president’s office said.