Forbes India has just published a list of 24 influentials, in no particular order, according the author. We were pleased to see two colleagues with whom we interact a lot, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Sunil Abraham featured in the “top ten.” Our congratulations to this well-deserved honor and our wishes for more strength in the New Year in improving the quality of policy discourse in India, perhaps the most important and challenging of the countries we work in. Our congratulations also to Ajay Shah and Nachiket Mor with whom we have had limited interactions. We look forward to getting to know the others on the list.
Reliance on public-sector entities alone was identified as a critical weakness in India’s NOFN plans during the Expert Forum we organized in New Delhi in March 2014. The event had significant participation from senior Indian government officials. Did it, and other writings, make any contribution to the change in course described below? In a shift from its previous stance, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has now decided to rope in private sector for the ambitious National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) project. The moves comes since it sees roping in the private sector as the only way out to meet the new deadline of March 2016 set by the government, as against December 2016 earlier, to complete the R21,000-crore project.
All the plans for advancing the lives of people in South Asian countries, including Internet access, are not likely to achieve fruition unless the electricity problems are solved. For this, one essential action is the the tapping of the abundant potential of the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Another is interconnection of the national grids of the South Asian countries. The Economist wrote about this, focusing on sub-continent, and leaving out Sri Lanka. A second reason, says Raghuveer Sharma of the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), was radical change that opened India’s domestic power market a decade ago.
The 2014 Measuring the Information Society report is out. No surprises at the top: Denmark is now at 1 and Korea is now 2; just changed places from 2012 ranking. Significant movement from the Gulf countries: UAE goes from 46 to 23 and Qatar from 42 to 34. UAE is almost too difficult to believe. No good news from South Asia, sadly.
I’ve seen larger numbers being thrown around but this seems to be the component that the Indian Department of Telecom will control through its BBNL special purpose vehicle. The Rs 20,100 crore national broadband network will serve as a countrywide optic-fibre pipe to provide high-speed internet connectivity across rural India while the Rs 30,000-crore-plus wifi-based e-services project aims to create a commercial ecosystem to recover the costs of building such rural broadband infrastructure. Since the national broadband project is likely to see a 40% cost-escalation to nearly Rs 28,000 crore, the combined capex and opex cost of executing both projects is internally envisaged at roughly Rs 60,000 crore by DoT. “Currently, BBNL’s role is purely B2B (business to business), in that, it will be a bandwidth supplier to telcos who will eventually ride on the national broadband network to deliver services. But if BBNL is also required to deliver broadband services, its business model will have to migrate to the business-to-consumer (B2C) format,” said another DoT official aware of the matter.
LIRNEasia’s image is tied up with ICTs, thought from the beginning we wanted to be an infrastructure shop. Ports are infrastructure, and for the city I live in, perhaps the most vital infrastructure. So this piece fits. But the fit is even more from the mindset side. Everything we do as a think tank is intended to get people to think about problems (and solutions) differently.
Our colleague Sunil Abraham had the following to say about Digital India: What do you think of the government’s Digital India plan? The government can use the billions from the Universal Service Obligation fund for broadband connectivity. The markets cannot handle back haul infrastructure and in most countries, some amount of state investment is necessary. Some of the open access details have to be worked out. The government seems to have a monopoly position in execution.
In Pakistan, they are asking for fingerprints. In India, Aadhaar: ET has learnt that the security establishment is now veering towards the view that since Unique Identification Authority of India ( UIDAI) claims that it has back-end data of most of Aadhaar recipients in the form of address proof document submitted by them while applying for an UID number, Aadhaar as e-KYC can be extended to provision of SIM cards. “Banks are already accepting Aadhaar as e-KYC for opening new bank accounts. Extending this to SIM cards is a major feature of the PM’s Digital India plan. IB’s concerns are being addressed but the project cannot be derailed,” a senior government official said.
Apparently, the eight percent tax on the gross adjusted revenues of ISPs will not be implemented. Good. TRAI had suggested a uniform licence fee of 8 per cent of the AGR (adjusted gross revenue) for all ISP and ISP-Internet Telephony licences. Government levies licence fee on AGR of telecom firms after deducting some components that are not earned from telecom services. TRAI had earlier also recommended that government levy 8 per cent licence fee from April 1, 2013, but the proposal was deferred then, after questions raised on revenue items that should be considered for calculating the final charges.
The Hindu Businessline, a newspaper with sophisticated business coverage especially on ICT issues, has introduced our big data work to its readers. Can telecom networks be used for better urban planning? Colombo-based ICT think tank, LIRNEasia, has completed a project which used data from telecom networks in Sri Lanka to generate patterns related to population movement that showed concentration of people in a city at any given time of the day. LIRNEasia used data generated from mobile usage to create heatmaps that showed for example, how Colombo city acts as a sink, sucking people out of the surrounding suburbs during work times and North Colombo, which is the poorest part of the city, is integrally connected to the southern part of the city, providing labour to the rest of the city. Full report.
If broadband is to be provided at affordable costs, the last mile will for the most part be wireless. Unless people allow towers to be built, this will not be feasible. The Gujarat High Court decision will help. The latest verdict of the Gujarat High Court that base stations for wireless data and mobile communications pose no threat to health if prescribed norms are followed will have far-reaching impact on erasing people’s fears, say industry experts. The 25-page order of a Gujarat High Court bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J.
In May 2007, I made a presentation to high-level committee appointed by the government of Bangladesh to recommend reforms to the way international telecom traffic was handled. I neglected to spell out what BPO stood for. “What is BPO” was the question from the audience. Seven years later, Bangladesh is ranked 26th in the AT Kearney Global Services Location Index. That is great.
In the design of India’s broadband initiative, it was said that one thing was non-negotiable: the work had to be done by state-owned enterprises. Knowledgeable people advised the government that this would slow down implementation. And so it happened. Now the new Minister is hiring 10 CIOs to push implementation (including much of the eco system), setting realistic time targets and upping the spend from USD 7 billion to USD 17 billion. And taking all the credit, as is customary.
I have always been intrigued by the differences between South and South East Asian countries. We saw this over and over again when we did the Teleuse@BOP surveys. But playing around with some numbers for Facebook users in four South and four SE Asian countries, I was astounded. In all the SE Asian countries, there are more Facebook users than there are Internet users. In the case of Myanmar, the multiple is 4.
I have been inclined to give the new administration the benefit of the honeymoon period, but surely this is nuts. The previous administration placed all its eggs in the BSNL basket and got egg in its face for its pains. Not only did they extract enormous amounts as fees, they delayed procurement and did not give INC anything ICT to talk about during the election campaign. Now the BJP is going on that same well-trodden path: The telecom department is aiming to complete setting up of a pan-India optic-fibre network by June 2016, a year ahead of the stated schedule of the project that is critical to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ initiative. The Department of Telecommunications has sought the views of public-sector telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd whether it can complete the National Optical Fibre Network ( NOFN) project by then, according to an internal note seen by ET.
Governments provisioning e government services have to address two specific policy principles with regard to infrastructure: ensure universal access to their services and assure a higher level of reliability than with comparable private services. I will leave the second principle for later discussion. Unlike a decade or so ago, governments today do not have to rely solely on common-access centers (telecenters) to provide universal access. In most countries, mobile signals cover a significant proportion of the population and prompt policy action can increase the percentage quickly; many households have at least one electronic access device; the few that do not, can gain such access. Today’s smartphones have capabilities little different from the early telecenters, except for functionalities such as printing, scanning, etc.