India Archives — Page 22 of 43

Tharoor recalled the infamous words of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s communications minister in the 1970s, C.M. Stephen. In response to questions decrying the rampant telephone breakdowns in the country, the minister declared in Parliament that telephones were a luxury, not a right. He added that ‘any Indian who was not satisfied with his telephone service could return his phone’ — since there was an eight-year waiting list of people seeking this supposedly inadequate product.
Teleuse@BOP3, LIRNEasia’s six country study has shown that between 2006 and 2008 there has been significant uptake of mobiles by the BOP in emerging Asia. Access to computers on the other hand (see here for numbers)  in these countries at the BOP is minimal.  Together with the increasing capabilities of mobiles to deliver an array of services, which essentially boil down to what you can do on the Internet (information publication and retrieval, transactions, etc) this means that much of the BOP will have their first Internet experience through a mobile. The current issue of Nokia’s Expanding Horizons quarterly magazine highlights LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP3 study findings from India, illustrating this point. Mobiles are now the most common form of communication, pushing public phones into second place… The rapid evolution of the mobile into a multi-purpose communications and knowledge tool combined with its fast adoption by the BOP, means they and the majority of people in the developing world are likely to have their first Internet experience via a mobile.
In line with our current research focus on mobile-beyond-voice, we have been highlighting some novel information services that could be provided over the mobile.  Here is another.  In operation in India now. A number of civic groups, meanwhile, have devised cellphone-based ways of informing voters about candidates for Parliament. If you text your postal code to the Association for Democratic Reforms, it will reply with candidate profiles like this: CANDIDATE A Crim.
Until recently, I believed, with Richard Heeks quoted below, that radio is found in more homes (at the BOP or all) than phones and TVs. Survey data from the BOP at three countries that account for the world’s greatest concentration of poor people (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) tell a story that contradicts the common wisdom. In India, 58% of BOP households have TVs, while only 32% have radios. And some kind of phone in the household? 45%!
Unsatisfied broadband users added flavor to both our Public Seminar and Mobile Broadband QoSE workshop. That included university students prevented access during the residential peak to Wi-Max subscribers experiencing 20% of the promised speed – even with perfect LoS (Line of Sight). Such complaints are common and not limited to Sri Lanka. From Indonesia to India and from Bangladesh to Philippines we find broadband users rant not receiving the promised. We empathise with them, but this hardly an Asian or a developing world issue.
The demand-side data generated by the Teleuse @ BOP 3 study clearly shows the urban-rural gap among teleusing households (those who own some kind of mobile phone or have a fixed phone in the house) significantly narrowing. But respected colleagues are citing supply-side data to assert not only that the gap is not narrowing, but that it is significantly widening. This is contradictory not only with our demand-side results, but also with the claims made by the Indian Minister. We hope they will engage with us on clearing this fog. More perilous, however, is the inequality between rural and urban India.
A paper authored jointly by Professor Subhash Bhatnagar and Nupur Singh titled “Results from a study of impact of eGovernment projects in India”, was selected as the Best Paper at ICTD 2009 held recently in Doha. Our warm congratulations to Professor Bhatnagar and his co-author. Subhash, who is leading the work on one of our Mobile 2.0 components, had a 20 minute one-on-one with the Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates. ICTD 2009 was attended on a scholarship by Nirmali Sivapragasam of LIRNEasia.
Just five years ago, the Indian telecom industry’s massive momentum barely included the poor.  The country had slightly over seven access paths (fixed and mobile connections) per 100 people, but in rural India 100 people were served by only 1.5 access paths.  Even in urban India, the poor were unconnected. But now, the picture is different.
Proceedings from LIRNEasia’s Telecom Regulatory Environment (TRE) dissemination event,  held on March 6th, 2009, have been published in Voice&Data, India’s leading magazine on the business of communications, and also LIRNEasia’s collaborating partner for the event.   Over seventy key experts of the telecom industry participated at the event, with aim of understanding and sharing the key challenges in the Indian policy and regulatory environment and the solutions available. Delivering the keynote address, RN Prabhakar, member, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India explained the challenges faced by a regulator during the course of development. The event saw the release of the TRE survey, jointly presented by Rohan Samarajiva and Payal Malik. A panel discussion on ‘Challenging Policy and Regulatory Environment,’ was also held.
Impressive science is being produced as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The focus now must be on creating systems within national governments that will allow the best use of science. Modeling data on projected tsunami arrival times (if any) were available to all on September 12, 2007. There is no evidence that the government’s hasty evacuation order took into account any of this information. A new mathematical formula that could be used to give advance warning of where a tsunami is likely to hit and how destructive it will be has been worked out by scientists at Newcastle University.
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.