The study by our bd4d team built on the Social Connectedness Index concept introduced by Michael Bailey (the team lead for economics research at Facebook) and others.
Myanmar is the rising star in global telecoms market and anything new hits the headlines. Bharti Airtel’s claim of activating a terrestrial optical fiber cable link between India and Myanmar is one such example. An undisclosed sum has been reportedly invested in a 6,500rkm (route km) terrestrial link. It will be connected to Airtel’s landing stations in Chennai and Mumbai. Ajay Chitkara, the company’s director & CEO (global voice & data business) told the Economic Times: ‘The terrestrial cable link is a strategic fibre asset for Airtel in the SAARC region, which will enable the company to offer robust end-to-end connectivity solutions in Myanmar, which is seeing rapid uptake of digital services as one of the last growth frontiers in Asia.
Bangladesh keeps talking about launching a satellite. Sri Lanka threw some money at it, but backed off. Myanmar is talking. Now India wants to gift SAARC member countries with a satellite to be launched using ISRO’s innovative, low-cost launch capabilities. Something Keynes wrote about economics gave me the answer to the puzzle of why our region’s decision makers are so enamored with telecom satellites.
We’re playing around with some ideas about connectedness. We want to use big data to see what real (as opposed to administratively mandated) communities are. Using Facebook’s analytics page, did some surface analysis of SAARC and ASEAN. It is very clear that India is the center of SAARC, being the country that most Bhutanese have friends in (value of 5 given) and the country with the second-largest number of friends for Bangladeshis, Maldivians, Nepalese, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans (value of 4). I guess the only surprise there is Pakistan.
I was in Kathmandu June 11-13 for a World Bank workshop on regional cooperation for journalists. I could have talked about the challenges of increasing integration in the world’s least integrated region through the lens of the battles over CEPA. But I decided to talk about a subject that was much more mundane, but one where we at LIRNEasia could provide current factual information that no one else could: the related topics in intra-SAARC calling charges being too high and within SAARC roaming charges being rapacious. The talk is here. The media included: Nepal’s Republica and Sri Lanka’s LBO.
It has been an unfortunate fact that Sri Lanka and India have signed many agreements that have not been implemented. This caused me to write a column some years back entitled “An MOU to implement MOUs.”. The one difference that I see in the short LBO report on cooperation between India and Sri Lanka on telecom is that the word MOU has been replaced by agreement. But I hope I am wrong and that there will be real implementation.
Postal services everywhere are in trouble. South Asia is no exception. What one does to remedy the situation is the important question. The Indian government seems to think that training 10 officials from the SAARC will do it. And that the solution involves greater cooperation among money-losing, inefficient administrations.
We got into roaming because TRAI asked us to. This was just after the SAARC Summit in Colombo in 2008. I thought there’d be more talk about roaming since another SAARC talkfest just ended. But looks like TRAI has decided the neighborhood is not worth the trouble. They want cheap roaming in Europe.
Because of some work done on India-Sri Lanka services trade, I keep getting invited to speak on related topics, including physical connectivity between India and Sri Lanka. Not sure what good comes of these talks, but . . . Physical connectivity in the southern SAARC region.
Some people celebrate 25 years of anything: dead marriages, inert regional groupings, just occupying space. We don’t. SAARC must be assessed by its fruits. On internal connectivity it fails. Here’s the evidence, carried in op-ed articles in Bangladesh’s Daily Star, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror and also in a PTI dispatch: It is always easier to do things within one’s own country than outside, or at least it should be.
An organization called RIS (Research and Information System for Developing Countries) invited me to speak at a workshop celebrating 25 years of SAARC. I see nothing to celebrate, but came nevertheless because there is value in cross-fertilization and because it was time to apply some more pressure on changing the absurd international calling prices and roaming charges in the region. It was like being the new kid in the class. These people had been meeting each other for the past 25 years or more and knew each other well. Many warm and fuzzy things were said about what a wonderful thing regional cooperation was.
e Sri Lanka, when designed in 2002-03, broke new ground. Now six years later, it seems opportune to assess whether it delivered on its promise. This assessment was triggered by discussions on how best to respond to the Brazilian government’s invitation to Helani Galpaya to share the learnings of e Sri Lanka. It also builds on our work on indicators and indices and discussions on this site. What did it achieve in its originally allotted five years?
I wish the question mark was not necessary, but the record so far does not allow me exclude it. We started this process in the weeks before the 2008 SAARC Summit. When the issue was mentioned in the SAARC Chair’s speech and included in the Declaration, we were, naturally, pleased. I recall telling a journalist that at most it would take a few months to get this implemented. We raised the issue with the then Chair of the South Asian Telecom Regulator’s Council, Mr Nripendra Misra of India.
An article published in the Himal Southasian and authored by Rohan Samarajiva, explores the feasibility of regional economic integration among the SAARC region, given among factors, high telecommunication costs between such countries. Entitled, ‘Roaming dystopia’, the article opines that in the same way that poor transportation facilities can stifle international trade between countries, so can high communication costs such as leased line prices act as a deterrent to effective economic integration. Based on roaming tariffs collated and published in LIRNEasia’s International Voice Benchmarks report, the article states that “unless telephone calls within the region are cheaper than calls to locations outside, it is reasonable to dismiss declarations on economic integration as little more than hot air”. The full article is available here: Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3
Given coincidence of the SAARC Minister’s meeting and the release of LIRNEasia’s twice-a-year price benchmarks, I was tempted to see how much progress had been achieved, with regard to the Colombo Declaration’s para 6 which called for low intra-SAARC international voice tariffs. Not much progress to report, unfortunately. On the fixed side, the only countries with intra-SAARC tariffs lower than to non-SAARC countries, are Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan, because it has a special price for India (other SAARC prices are high) and Nepal because it has not changed its extremely high tariff structure (and the lower-by-comparison intra-SAARC prices). Lanka Bell in Sri Lanka offers low prices to India, but our methodology does not capture that, because we take the prices of the largest operator, SLT.
Today, Lanka Bell (the cable partner of Reliance through Flag), announced that calls to India would henceforth cost LKR 0.07 a minute, among the lowest IDD rates offered. They have not got around to updating their website, but newspaper ads should count for something. What is causing downward pressure on international call rates to India? Just a short time back, Dialog cut prices to India.