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.
I received this as a forwarded email with no comments from a person who is influential in the ICT space. The Indian smartphone market made a 0.7 percent increase from September to October, vaulting the nation over the 1 billion user threshold to 1.03 billion users. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India just released this information yesterday, making India the second country in the world to reach this milestone.
Economic Times reports three problems, of which it says the spectrum issue is the hardest to address. One of the primary concerns with the proposal is that the spectrum band required for the transmission is unavailable. According to DoT, Google has sought a band of 700 to 900 MHz, which is occupied by telecom service providers. Union communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed that there are technical glitches in Project Loon. “The proposed frequency band to be used in the Loon Project of Google is being used for cellular operations in India and it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions,” he said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
Pakistan has officially allowed private carriers to terrestrially plug the country with all the four neighbors including India. This multidimensional landmark decision makes Pakistan the buckle of South Asia-Central Asia telecoms belt. This route is embedded in our proposed trans-Asian connectivity for affordable broadband. It took us three years to convince ESCAP, which dubs our concept “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.” Pakistan currently exports internet bandwidth to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
OTTs and telcos really need to come up with better names to differentiate their products and services. Really. Or maybe confusion is just the point. First there was Free Basics, Facebook’s service which gives free access to a set of applications inside the app (it was previously called Internet.org, a supposedly clever name which of course was used by Facebooks critics point out the fact that it wasn’t really the “Internet”, but again, perhaps that was the point).
All the fuss has been about Digital India. But India has fallen back six places to 131, despite improving its IDI score from 2.14 to 2.69 in the ICT Development Index. Nepal, which does not have a funded and actively promoted digital strategy, has advanced four places to 136th place.
First it was Bangladesh: Robi and Airtel. Then it was India: Reliance and Sistema plus maybe Aircel. Sri Lanka: SLT/Mobitel and Hutch. Now Pakistan: Mobilink and Warid. VimpelCom is looking to combine Pakistani unit Mobilink with local rival Warid Telecom, claiming the first merger in the country’s telecoms sector.
I first heard about government entering the business of manufacturing phones when I was (futilely) advising the government of Bangladesh on formulating a national telecom policy. They had some bankrupt telecom equipment factories and I was asked what to do with them. I said, not much. Then my friends in India started to show me numbers for what India was spending on importing equipment for the telecom industry. This cannot continue, they said.
It was expected. So I ignored the news that RCom and Sistema were in merger talks. What got my attention was the Aircel angle. People have been talking about collaboration between the Ambani brothers (Jio and RCom). Now that get’s real interesting.
The raging debate on Zero Rated content is, for the most part, taking place in a vacuum of evidence. A successful campaign by activists ensured that many of the 1.2 million responses sent to TRAI’s proposed net neutrality regulations in April 2015 called for banning internet.org (Facebook’s Zero Rated offering, now called Free Basics). The fear that the poor who use the free version of the internet offered by Facebook will not use anything else but Facebook has been one of the harms many advocates put forth.
Manu Joseph hits back at the overheated rhetoric driving the opposition to zero rating. He also mentions the Quartz piece citing Helani’s report from the field in Indonesia. A lazy, neurotic suspicion of the large corporation is also behind the obtuse alarm over Free Basics. But the very strength of the parallel Internet for the poor is that it is corporate strategy. Mark Zuckerberg has tried his best to give it a humanitarian spin, which may not be wholly a lie, but I do hope the venture is not purely altruistic.
Spectrum is a scarce resource, made even more scarce by the difficulties governments have in refarming it. Efficient use of spectrum should be a high priority. It is obvious that allowing firms to use market mechanisms to use the resource more efficiently is a good thing. The question is why this is not done. One part of the answer is the need of governments to maximize revenues from spectrum.