August has been a busy month for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and its chairman, the redoubtable Nripendra Misra, a dyed-in-wool bureaucrat who has in his regulatory avatar done arguably more than any of his predecessors on the job. He has plenty of support and equally bitter critics who wish he would give up on forbearance, cut rentals, mandate cheaper roaming and ensure per second billing instead of per minute. On August 20, the authority allowed India’s estimated 295 million telecom subscribers the freedom to use different long distance service providers without changing their service provider. Two days earlier, it had unshackled internet telephony (voice transmitted over internet protocol networks). Two weeks before that, it had opened the doors for virtual mobile networks, virgin territory in India till then.
Responding to Rohan Samarajiva’s views on newly implemented Environmental levy in Lankadeepa last week, Central Environmental Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila calls it essential and the ‘first progressive tax’ in Sri Lanka. Assuring it does not burden public, he says any tax can be initially unpopular but the impact should be seen in long term. (Lankadeepa, August 19, 2008) These are his points in brief: 1. If not for the Environmental levy, the government has to find money to address environmental issues by increasing either VAT or customs charges. That will raise prices in general.
Strange will be the telecom world in emerging markets. Free incoming calls are the norm in many counties. Ever thought it can get even better? Operator paying the mobile users for incoming? Where on earth such crazy things happen?
LIRNEasia’s ‘Rapid Response Program’ is exactly what the name suggests. We react to immediate information needs of telecom regulators, at short notice. The response might not be lengthy and as comprehensive as we would like it to be, but nevertheless helpful, as Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) have realised. LIRNEasia saw BTRC’s move to issue three new Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) licenses a positive development, as Bangladesh is certainly not a country that can boast of quality and affordable broadband. This is what we learnt from our research: Exceptionally high cost of broadband remains a key barrier that prevents the development of the BPO industry in Bangladesh.
The special issue on “Community-based last-mile early warning system” carried on its back page the following contribution from Rohan Samarajiva (despite the title of the publication, it’s not possible to find this piece on the web, so what is pasted below is the pre-pub version: Between a rock and a hard place The tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the absence of any official warning. The Bengkulu earthquake of 2007 September 12th shows that this is unlikely to be repeated. What we must guard against now is indifference to warning; of populations that will refuse to evacuate in the face of real danger. Tsunami prediction is an inexact art practiced in conditions of imperfect information and time pressure. In the Pacific Basin, which has had the most experience with tsunamis, 75 per cent of all warnings are false.
A recent LIRNEasia media outreach effort timed to coincide with the upcoming SAARC Summit in Colombo has been picked up by AFP. Leaving aside the question of the operators in the SAARC countries collectively lowering their termination rates to make possible more reasonable intra-SAARC call charges, the data also show that Pakistan has the overall lowest international telecom prices and Nepal has the highest. Hopefully, some of these prices will come down, now that the comparisons have been made! South Asian leaders urged to slash telco tariffs – LANKA BUSINESS ONLINE Calls were cheapest in Pakistan, where fixed and mobile phone users pay three US cents a minute to call many non-SAARC destinations, including the United States and Hong Kong. But users pay 12 US cents to call Bangladesh and India.
Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) of Hong Kong was ranked as the most effective National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority site in the recently conducted LIRNEasia study ‘NRA Website survey: Asia Pacific 2008’ receiving 94%, followed by Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore with 89% and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with 87%. In South Asia Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) scored highest (80%) but Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of India (TRAI) was not too behind (75%). PTA site which scored highest marks in the previous survey in 2005 this time lost marks due to the lack of some features like the non availability of local language version. More information in paper format and Presentation Slides
LIRNEasia researchers participated at the International Telecommunications Society (ITS) 17th Biennial Conference in Montreal, Canada, from June 24-27 2008. The theme of the conference was on, ‘The Changing Structure of the Telecommunications Industry and the New Role of Regulation’. The picture above shows Professor Sudharma Yoonaidharma, Commissioner, National Telecommunciations Commission of Thailand commenting on the presentations made at the second of the two LIRNE.NET sessions, watched by (from left) Rohan Samarajiva and Payal Malik from LIRNEasia, Roxana Barrentes from DIRSI and Anders Henten from LIRNE Europe. The session was chaired by Hank Intven, Partner at the leading Canadian firm of McCarthy Tetrault (not in the picture).
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to review termination charges, a major component of telecom bills. The charges are paid by the operator, from whose network the call is made, to the operator on whose network the call terminates. The DoT has asked TRAI to review these charges on a priority basis so that consumers benefit at the earliest. “Given that the central aim of the telecom policy is to provide services at affordable rates, it is suggested that a review of mobile termination charges, based on present and projected costs and traffic, be undertaken by TRAI in a time-bound manner,” the DoT said in a letter to the regulator. In 2003, Trai had recommended a termination charge of 30 paise per minute.
Worried over the growing grey market for mobile phones due to illegal imports from countries like China and India, Sri Lankan Customs has decided to confiscate such cell phones being brought in as accompanied or unaccompanied baggage or as gift. The Sri Lanka Customs has announced that all goods for commercial purposes/commercial quantities have to be imported in accordance with the provision of the Import Control Act and regulations framed there under. It is estimated that over 20,000 mobile phones are entering the country through illegal channels every month. “We are optimistic that this initiative will help in combating the grey market in Sri Lanka with strong implementation Directo/ Chief Executive Officer of Softlogic Communications Samantha Rajapaksa told the “Daily News”. Softlogic an authorised dealer for Nokia phones in Sri Lanka.
LIRNEasia’s Lead Economist presented the findings on the percieved benefits of telecom access at the bottom of the pyramid at ‘The Global and Globalizing Dimensions of Mobile Communication: Developing or Developed‘ a pre-conference program at the ICA 2008 conference in Montreal on 20-21 May 2008. The paper presented, ‘Perceived economic benefits of telecom access at the Bottom of the Pyramid in emerging Asia‘ takes a look at what BOP phone owners gain from telecom access from their own perspective. One of the most interesting findings here, is that although they see efficiency gains stemming from phone access/use, they don’t relate these to economic gains. This is puzzling, because we know from macro-level studies that a positive relationship exists between phone penetration and national income; additionally, theory suggests that for example saving time or a physical trip to convey a message or obtain information, can translate to economic savings. However, there seems to be some kind of ‘disconnect’ in BOP perceptions of the value of a phone.
Railtel Corporation of India, the communication arm of the Indian Railways, is planning to set-up cyber cafes at over 200 major railway stations across the country by the year-end, Railway Minister Nitish Kumar said on Thursday. “The first cyber cafe will be inaugurated on Friday at New Delhi Railway Station. Based on the feedback of the users, we are intending to extend to over 200 important stations in the country in the first phase by the end of this year,” Kumar told reporters at the commissioning of the “optic fibre communication link on Bangalore-Secunderabad, Secunderabad- Vijayawada-Chennai and Chennai-Ooty-Bangalore” here. The railways would also experiment by providing broadband Internet access on moving train, the first such instance in the world, he said. The service would be launched on a train this year.
LIRNEasia might not be as high tech as some of the big IT players but in our own way we have made a successful effort to make ourselves a virtual team. Not a choice – that was the only way we could operate in multiple countries (For example, in this cycle, TRE surveys will be in nine countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand; not to mention CPRSouth 3 in Beijing)without budgets comparable to what INGOs use to run regional networks. We also thought our own experiences will be useful for others. Hence the Virtual Organisation (VO) project. It had two aspects; developing the VO and using it to conduct LIRNEasia’s other research projects.
It would be the biggest thing to pass between India and South Africa since Mahatma Gandhi moved from one country to the other. This week it emerged that Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile-phone operator in India, is holding “exploratory” talks to buy South Africa’s MTN, the biggest operator in Africa. According to the Financial Times, Bharti has indicated it would be willing to pay about $19 billion for 51% of the company. That would make it the heftiest overseas acquisition ever made by an Indian firm, more than Tata Steel paid for Corus, a British steelmaker, and seven times the amount India invested in the whole of Africa over the ten years to 2004. The deal would unite the leading companies in the world’s two most promising mobile markets.
The 2008 Global Information Technology Report prepared for the World Economic Forum shows the five big countries of the SAARC backsliding in the rankings with small exceptions in the case of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which advanced from 86th place to 76th (using only 2006 countries; otherwise to 79th place) and from 118th place to 116th (again using only 2006 countries; if not, it would be in 124th place), respective.ly. India went from 44th place to 48th (2006 countries only; if not 50th). Pakistan from 84 to 85 (actual rank 89) and Nepal from 108th place to 111th (actual rank 119). The full report is here
Indian telecom service provider Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is expanding its rural broadband access in partnership with Nokia Siemens Networks. Expanded service will begin commercial operation in July. Nokia Siemens will deploy BSNL broadband access in 20 circles (administrative country subdivisions) in India. This will give an additional 25,000 Indian villages access to digital-age services like high-speed Internet and virtual private networks (VPNs). The new network will also enable BSNL to provide connectivity to CSCs (Community Service Centres) and other e-governance locations.