India


Last time the BJP was in power, Pramod Mahajan was Minister of Telecom. He listened to The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), a group of IT business people primarily of Indian origin based in the US and merged the DoT (in charge of telecom) and DEITy (in charge of IT). This was portrayed as a major step toward convergence. But the offices were separate, they had different secretaries, and different cultures. All that was common was the Minister.
Osama Manzar of Digital Empowerment Foundation has written an op ed on BharatNet, still being described by the unfortunate acronym NOFN. We have been writing about it since Sam Pitroda came up with the plan in 2012-13. What is sad is that the story has not changed much since 2013-14, despite governments and ministers changing. In Palla village of Dadri, the village head informed us that NOFN cables had been laid in the area 18 months ago, but there was still no set-up box or Wi-Fi tower. This is alarming because Ballabhgarh and Dadri are within a 50-km radius from Delhi.
A report published by Analysis Mason this April on “How to get a billion Indians online by 2020” explores different potential business models to connect digitally un served and under served Indians. As for their forecast, unique Internet users in India by 2020 will be 746 million. The authors suggest connecting the additional 254 million digitally un-served and under-served Internet users are important for the users to benefit from the multiple government initiatives such as MGNREGA, AADHAR and Digital India. As the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) backhaul is been rolled out in India, authors explore seven business models to provide last mile access using NOFN  infrastructure. Operators/ ISP initiatives Promotional 3G/ 4G packs to drive discovery/ Experimentation Minimal speed free universal data access (64 kbps; 10MB/ day) Central/ State government initiatives Community or Government institution Wi-Fi (NOFN) Subsidized data packs for low income group segment USOF based WiFi access through reverse auction using NOFN Corporates and tech companies driven initiatives CSR based free WiFi access Use of innovative technologies/ solutions for access It explores the pros and cons of each of the above access models and compare them based on multiple parameters.
By my lights, the project should have started by now. We first went public on this two years ago. But at least they are still talking: A proposal to link the two countries’ electricity grids could ultimately see improved reliability and stability of the Sri Lanka power supply and, in the long run, allow the country to purchase and export electricity depending on variability in price. The interconnection – a high-voltage, direct current line to run from Madurai in India to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka – is initially planned to transmit up to 500 MW, scalable up to 1 GW. Pre-feasibility studies of the proposed Sri Lanka-India transmission network have already been completed, according to Sri Lanka’s electricity regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka.
Bangladesh simultaneously exports and imports Internet bandwidth to and from India. Its geographic location and state of international connectivity have contributed to this interesting scenario. The first submarine cable (SEA-ME-WE4) was landed at Cox’s Bazar in 2005. This facility of Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company (BSCCL) has dramatically improved the country’s overall international connectivity. Yet, the industry remained nervous about outages due to maintenance or accidental snapping of SEA-ME-WE4.
Senior Research Fellow Payal Malik has co-authored an op-ed on surge pricing in the taxi market that addresses some key issues of platform markets. The distinguishing feature of platform markets is the lowering of transaction costs through the use of ICTs. State action to prohibit such applications is retrograde. Instead, what should be done is to remove no-longer-justifiable constraints such as rigid and limited issuance of licenses. The state fixes two parts of the taxi market.
A recent report by TIE, summarized in Mint, echoes many of the conclusions we reached about the challenges of increasing Internet connectivity in India, with emphasis on the bottom of the pyramid. It is important that Bharat Broadband Network stays at the backhaul level and does not seek to directly provide access services to end users. This is not only to safeguard the principle that all access providers should have non-discriminatory, cost-oriented access to the backhaul but also to ensure that the NOFN rollout does not slow down any further. It is silly to ask a bunch of bureaucrats to market Internet access. Private operators are not interested in providing access at the ends of the NOFN wire for various reasons.
On 26 April 2016, Dr Vigneswara Illavarasan who led the Systematic Review on ICTs and MSMEs, convened an expert roundtable to discuss the results and to learn from those working in the field. To round out his study, which was focused on urban areas, I presented the Systematic Review on the impact mobiles had on rural livelihoods and related indicators. The invitees were experts in the field, except for the Ministry representatives everyone who had said they’d come did come, and the discussion of rich with insights. The slides on MSMEs are here. The slides on rural livelihoods are here.
In theory, surge pricing is a no-brainer. If prices go up when demand surges at particular times, surge pricing will bring additional supply to the market. While not supporting what appears on the face to be an economically illiterate decision by an Indian court to ban surge pricing the authors of the Economic Times op-ed point to an unnoticed Delhi-specific fact: the only drivers who can respond to the price signal are those outside the area, since only licensed drivers can supply services. This suggests that research that pays attention to the specific conditions is needed. This is what LIRNEasia did with regard to telecom reform; this is what is needed for platforms in developing countries.
I thought that the Government of India finally solved the problem of getting rid of the universal service fund money that kept coming in. Sam Pitroda gave them the solution with NOFN, that was supposed to shift the money to BSNL and other government entities. And the money was given for little result. But the inflows were just too much. Now the accumulated balance is over USD 6 billion.
BSNL is on life support courtesy of the Indian taxpayer, whatever fictitious paper profits it conjures up. The authors of a recent op ed in Hindu Businessline see through the fiction. The government firms had their own share of sops such as (i) year-ahead early start in the assignment of both 3G and Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) spectrum in 2009 and (ii) reimbursement of about Rs. 10,000 crore of licence and spectrum charges during 2001-06, as part of commitment to BSNL corporatisation. However, the 6.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
BSNL has been favored child, being fed enormous subsidies and fees by different governments in power in India. But it appears the hunger is insatiable. BSNL and MTNL have not been compensated by the government for the spectrum they surrendered three years ago. The Forum has also demanded that a payment of Rs.1,250 crore be made to BSNL, a sum already sanctioned in lieu of the discontinued subsidies and the Access Deficit Charge (or ADC, envisaged as a cross subsidy by private mobile operators for use of landline services run by BSNL), which was discontinued in 2008 on a recommendation by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
This may be realistic, but somehow disappointing. Google India boss Rajan Anandan thinks 50 percent of Internet use in the future will not be interactive. I wonder what the people who campaigned against Free Basics and access to the “full” Internet think of this. While some people make the case that cost of data in India is among the lowest in the world, Anandan pointed out that you had to look at it in terms of the overall income. In the US, the cost of data is 0.
We highlighted the value of interconnecting with the South Indian grid almost three years ago in a presentation made to a public hearing of the PUCSL and kept the issue alive through subsequent writing. Would have been happier if construction had commenced, but good to know at least the talk continues. There is a big opportunity here,” Damitha Kumarasinghe, director general of Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka said. “Now India is connected to Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka is the country which is outside this grid at the moment and there are power deficits at various time intervals in both countries.” He was speaking at the recently concluded 22nd Steering Committee Meeting of South Asia Forum for Infrastructure Regulation (SAFIR) held in New Delhi, India.
Looks like what we wrote in EPW is having ripple effects. A cost-effective, intermediary method of collecting data has emerged in the form of direct source collection, in which individual citizens themselves are relied upon as the primary source of information. This is done through mobile network data, generated by all cellphones and includes information such as frequency and duration of calls, Internet plans and visitor location registry data. In cities buckling under the pressure of a growing population and facing a possible breakdown of infrastructure, this method of pre-informed planning allows the populace itself to contribute to the solution. LIRNEasia, a Sri Lanka-based think tank, has carried out an extensive study demonstrating the value of mobile network data.