CPRsouth 2015: Call for abstracts/paper proposals

THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF ICT GOVERNANCE AND PRACTICE – CONVERGENCE AND BIG DATA

Hosted by the Innovation Center for Big Data and Digital Convergence Yuan Ze University, Taiwan

26 – 28 August 2014

 CALL FOR ABSTRACTS/PAPER PROPOSALS

CPRsouth 2015

Deadline for submissions: 15 December 2014

Abstracts/paper proposals on ICT policy and regulation research carried out in the Asia Pacific and Africa, or relevant to the Asia-Pacific and Africa, may be submitted for review and acceptance.

 Paper proposals should be submitted electronically at:

 http://www.cprsouth.org

on or before 15 December 2014

Submit your abstract here

______________________

Communication Policy Research: south (CPRsouth) intends to build human capacity in the South by reinforcing and developing the knowledge, skills, and commitment of ICT policy and regulation scholars in the region or with substantial interest in the region. The overall objective is to create policy intellectuals capable of informed and effective intervention in ICT policy and regulatory processes in specific country contexts.

Content

The conference will accommodate approximately 30 paper presenters from Africa and the Asia-Pacific over the two-and-a-half-day conference in Taipei, Taiwan from 26 – 28 August 2015.  The conference includes sessions on cutting-edge developments on policy and regulation in the South and discussion of the research-policy interface. Each of the paper sessions will be chaired by a senior scholar and include a discussant, who will provide substantive comments on the papers.

Submission Guidelines

Paper proposals should be submitted electronically at: http://www.cprsouth.org on or before 15 December 2014

Submissions consist of a 500-word paper proposal with references, and a one-page curriculum vitae should be submitted together with the proposal

The document should be in MS office word format and named according to the following format: CPRsouth2014_abstract&Bio_YourLastName.doc

The review criteria and template for paper proposals can be downloaded from

http://www.cprsouth.org/review-criteria-and-template

Abstracts/ paper proposals should be classifiable with at least three keywords from the list below:

Access | Applications | Authorization and licensing | Broadband | Business models | Citizen | Civil society | Cloud computing | Competition | Conflict | Connectivity | Consumer | Content | Convergence | Cooperation | Demand | Disaster | Disability | Domestic | Economy | Ecosystem | Education | Efficiency | Emerging markets | Environment | Governance | Growth | Inclusion | Indicators | Information | Infrastructure | Innovation | International | Institutions | Judiciary | Knowledge | Legislation | Markets | Media | Micro, small and medium enterprises | Mobile money | Monopoly | Networks | Performance | Policy | Political economy | Poverty | Productivity | Property| Public goods | Oligopoly | Reforms | Regional | Regulation | Services | Spectrum | Strategy | Telecom reforms | Transparency | Universal access | Universal services.

Authors of shortlisted abstracts will be notified on or before the 30th of January 2015 and will be invited to submit full papers for final review by the 30th of March 2015.

Final papers selected for presentation at CPRsouth will be uploaded onto the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) database. Please note that the submission of the final paper implies consent to upload them onto the SSRN database. The slides of the presentations and the policy brief will also be uploaded onto http://www.cprsouth.org

 Funding

Selected paper presenters who are passport holders of, and travelling from, low, lower-middle and upper middle income countries within the Asia Pacific and Africa (as classified by the World Bank http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-classifications/country-and-lending-groups#Low_income) will be provided with:

  • lowest-cost economy airfare to conference destination (less USD 200 registration fee);
  • ground transfers between the conference venue and airport; and
  • twin sharing accommodation on bed and breakfast basis, 3 lunches and 1 dinner for the duration of the conference (26 – 28 August 2015). Not all meals are covered.

The registration fee for the conference is USD 200, and airfares will be reimbursed less this registration fee.  Participants will be required to cover:

  • transport to and from airports in their home countries;
  • visa fees (if any);
  • meals not provided; and
  • any other incidental costs

 Kindly note that under exceptional circumstances conference organisers may consider a waiver of the conference registration fee. Such waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis and only where an author would otherwise be prevented from presenting his or her paper at the conference.)

Visas

Letters of invitation will be provided for purposes of visa applications after participant selections have been made. Participants are responsible for securing heir own visas to enter Taiwan, and are strongly advised to initiate visa approval procedures immediately on receipt of confirmation of their participation.

Kindly direct all enquiries to: info@cprsouth.org or admin@researchictafrica.net

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The myth of broadband in the Philippines

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

The Philippines’ two major telcos, PLDT and Globe Telecom, are on an infrastructure investment roll. In July, PLDT announced completing its domestic fiber optic network worth 700-million pesos in Bohol province. In August, PLDT signed on to the Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE-1) project, joining 17 other operators to deploy a 25,000km subsea cable system. Meanwhile, Globe is investing $80 million in a submarine cable directly connecting Southeast Asia and the United States (SEA-US) slated for completion in 2016.

Year after year, PLDT and Globe spend billions of pesos in capital expenditure to expand and improve their domestic backbones and international connections. In 2013, Globe and PLDT each reported a capex of about 29 billion pesos ($663.3 million). The year before that, PLDT alone spent over 36 billion in capex, which, one expert notes, had not fallen below 20 billion pesos since 2006.

This is all good news, of course. But despite the hundreds of millions of dollars reportedly allocated by telcos to expand and improve connectivity, ordinary Filipino internet users are left scratching their heads asking: Why is my internet still slow?

The telcos can easily dismiss these anecdotes as subjective. Unsatisfied customers do tend to exaggerate their user experience after all. But there are so many diagnostic tools out there that can quantify the customer’s frustration and agitation.

In the first quarter of 2014, I carried out a broadband quality of service experience (QoSE) test of Philippine ISPs as part of a study by regional ICT policy think tank LIRNEasia. Using the AT Tester, a diagnostic tool for QoSE jointly designed with IIT Madras, I conducted tests using basic data plans being offered by the country’s three major ISPs (Smart, Globe and Sun).

The QoSE tests were conducted on multiple days (2 weekdays and 2 weekends) and at multiple time slots (including both peak and off-peak hours) throughout the day. It uses different domains (local ISP, national and international servers) and measures six metrics, including download and upload speeds, latency, jitter, packet loss and availability.

By far, the AT Tester is incomparable because of this rigorous methodology. As a result, LIRNEasia’s QoSE-based research has been used to inform the policies of regulators in countries like India, Mauritius, and Maldives. The AT Tester method is currently being implemented by the Bhutanese regulator.

The findings of the Philippine QoSE tests were expected, but nevertheless still disappointing.

The best performing among the three ISPs delivered only 21% of actual versus advertised speed on average. This same ISP also offered at least 256 Kbps download speed (generally accepted definition of broadband) only 67% of the whole time it was tested, falling short of the required 80% service reliability.

The Broadband Commission defines the core concepts of broadband as an “always-on service” with high capacity “able to carry lots of data per second.” While there is no official definition of broadband locally, the Philippine Digital Strategy 2011-2016 defines broadband internet service as 2 Mbps download speed.

Finally, like the last nail in the coffin, Philippine ISPs performed the worst in terms of value for money when compared to select providers in South Asia and Southeast Asia. The highest value given by any of the three Philippine ISPs tested was a measly 22 Kbps per US dollar. This figure is too low when compared to similar mobile broadband ISPs that offer 173 Kbps per dollar in Jakarta, Indonesia and 445 Kbps per dollar in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

These results have huge implications on truth in advertising, consumer welfare, and the need for appropriate regulation.

Since the connections are intermittent and average download speeds too low, should PH ISPs stop selling these basic data plans as broadband internet service? As Prof. Rohan Samarjiva of LIRNEasia asks, “What is the point of applying definitions to advertising, when real performance suggests that many operators… do not offer true broadband?”

Finally, the overused and abused argument that “internet is just a value-added service hence deregulated” stops where consumer welfare begins. Broadband internet should be treated like any paid service; there is no sound and legitimate reason (legal or otherwise) not to make providers accountable for the quality of service that customers pay for. And if there was any law that “prohibits” regulation to ensure the protection of consumer rights… Never mind, no such thing anyway.

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Peer(ing) Pressure: Why PLDT should give in (Part 3 of a 3-part series)

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

Since the May-28 Senate hearing investigating the Philippines’ slow and expensive internet, local IP peering has gained traction and media has since caught on. This articleby a popular online news site garnered 4,000 shares on Facebook and 220 retweets on Twitter. What this says is that people are eager to understand the problem and know about possible solutions, no matter how highly technical they may be.

A few years ago, the National Telecommunications Commission had tried to issue an order mandating telcos and ISPs to peer via the Philippine Open Internet Exchange (PHOpenIX) being operated by the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI).

But the country’s incumbent telco and largest ISP PLDT opposed the order, arguing that ASTI may not have the capability to “maintain security and service quality.” Three years hence, the proposal has resurfaced at the recent Senate hearing. This time, second largest telco Globe issued an official statement supporting NTC’s proposal of mandatory peering.

Various studies suggest that peering should not be forced upon ISPs and has to remain voluntary. But there are cases like Italy where government intervened to make peering happen. Regardless of these debates, however, there seems to be an agreement on the benefits of peering to all players involved. And with quality improving and costs decreasing, customers ultimately stand to gain from the invisible handshake among ISPs that is peering.

Below I continue my conversation with Wilson Chua of Bitstop.ph, the first local ISP to peer through the PHOpenIX, the only publicly funded, neutral, and non-profit internet exchange point in the country.

TA: What benefits has Bitstop, as a small local ISP, gained from peering?

Bitstop has saved a lot of bandwidth on both directions of the traffic.

For our hosted clients, we have seen increasing bandwidth going out of our center into the PHOpenIX. This translates to savings of about 35% in outgoing international bandwidth.

For our internet clients, we have seen a huge spike in incoming traffic from YouTube and Google caches served from inside the PHOpenIX. This also translates to savings of about 45% in incoming international bandwidth.

TA: How has your customers benefited from Bitstop peering to PHOpenIX?

They have all benefitted from this with faster access times and more resiliency. However, since most of these network efficiencies occur behind the scene, they may not be aware of what or why this is happening.

Take the case of www.krisaquino.net (website of a local celebrity who’s also the sister of the Philippine president). This website couldn’t be reliably hosted in the Philippines without the support of the PHOpenIX.  The website owners are just happy with the faster connection times, lower bounce rates and longer times on-site of their visitors. Their metrics are achievable because of peering.  But they may not be aware of how PHOpenIX helps to make this happen.

TA: Are there any downsides to peering?

Peering will primarily negatively affect the big international circuit vendors. As peering increases, the amount of international traffic decreases. They will lose short-term international revenues. This sheds some light into why some telcos are hesitant to support local peering.

You see, every bandwidth that is routed to peering exchanges is bandwidth saved from having to transit the international links. See below the speeds listed from the website stats that each of the exchanges published publicly.

  • Korea’ KINX saves about 562 gb EACH SECOND
  • Japan’s JIX saves 250 gb EACH SECOND
  • HongKong’s HKIX saves around 340 gb EACH SECOND
  • Amsterdam’s AMIX saves a whopping 2,800 gb EACH SECOND

And these are the countries that have superfast internet speeds. Do you see the correlation between peering and Internet speeds? Faster local links, less congested international links?

Also when the PHOpenIX increases bandwidth usage to 100 gbps, the projected savings to the Philippines is 100,000 mbps * 100 USD = USD 10 million or about 450 million pesos a month. Let’s peg it at PHP 0.5 billion a month. This does not even count the collateral, downstream benefits to the rest of Philippine society yet.

Continued from Part 2 – “Nothing to fear in peering”: A conversation with Bitsop.ph

 

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Nothing to fear in peering: A conversation with Bitstop.ph (Part 2 of a 3-part series)

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

Since the May-28 Senate hearing investigating the Philippines’ slow and expensive internet, local IP peering has gained traction and media has since caught on. This articleby a popular online news site garnered 4,000 shares on Facebook and 220 retweets on Twitter. What this says is that people are eager to understand the problem and know about possible solutions, no matter how highly technical they may be.

A few years ago, the National Telecommunications Commission had tried to issue an order mandating telcos and ISPs to peer via the Philippine Open Internet Exchange (PHOpenIX) being operated by the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI).

But the country’s incumbent telco and largest ISP PLDT opposed the order, arguing that ASTI may not have the capability to “maintain security and service quality.” Three years hence, the proposal has resurfaced at the recent Senate hearing. This time, second largest telco Globe issued an official statement supporting NTC’s proposal of mandatory peering.

Various studies suggest that peering should not be forced upon ISPs and has to remain voluntary. But there are cases like Italy where government intervened to make peering happen. Regardless of these debates, however, there seems to be an agreement on the benefits of peering to all players involved. And with quality improving and costs decreasing, customers ultimately stand to gain from the invisible handshake among ISPs that is peering.

Below I continue my conversation with Wilson Chua of Bitstop.ph, the first local ISP to peer through the PHOpenIX, the only publicly funded, neutral, and non-profit internet exchange point in the country.

TA: What benefits has Bitstop, as a small local ISP, gained from peering?

Bitstop has saved a lot of bandwidth on both directions of the traffic.

For our hosted clients, we have seen increasing bandwidth going out of our center into the PHOpenIX. This translates to savings of about 35% in outgoing international bandwidth.

For our internet clients, we have seen a huge spike in incoming traffic from YouTube and Google caches served from inside the PHOpenIX. This also translates to savings of about 45% in incoming international bandwidth.

TA: How has your customers benefited from Bitstop peering to PHOpenIX?

They have all benefitted from this with faster access times and more resiliency. However, since most of these network efficiencies occur behind the scene, they may not be aware of what or why this is happening.

Take the case of www.krisaquino.net (website of a local celebrity who’s also the sister of the Philippine president). This website couldn’t be reliably hosted in the Philippines without the support of the PHOpenIX.  The website owners are just happy with the faster connection times, lower bounce rates and longer times on-site of their visitors. Their metrics are achievable because of peering.  But they may not be aware of how PHOpenIX helps to make this happen.

TA: Are there any downsides to peering?

Peering will primarily negatively affect the big international circuit vendors. As peering increases, the amount of international traffic decreases. They will lose short-term international revenues. This sheds some light into why some telcos are hesitant to support local peering.

You see, every bandwidth that is routed to peering exchanges is bandwidth saved from having to transit the international links. See below the speeds listed from the website stats that each of the exchanges published publicly.

  • Korea’ KINX saves about 562 gb EACH SECOND
  • Japan’s JIX saves 250 gb EACH SECOND
  • HongKong’s HKIX saves around 340 gb EACH SECOND
  • Amsterdam’s AMIX saves a whopping 2,800 gb EACH SECOND

And these are the countries that have superfast internet speeds. Do you see the correlation between peering and Internet speeds? Faster local links, less congested international links?

Also when the PHOpenIX increases bandwidth usage to 100 gbps, the projected savings to the Philippines is 100,000 mbps * 100 USD = USD 10 million or about 450 million pesos a month. Let’s peg it at PHP 0.5 billion a month. This does not even count the collateral, downstream benefits to the rest of Philippine society yet.

Continued from Part 1 – “To peer or not to peer”: A conversation with Bitsop.ph

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“To peer or not to peer”: A conversation with Bitstop.ph (Part 1 of a 3-part series)

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

Last month, the Philippine Senate conducted a hearing to investigate the reason behind the country’s slow and expensive internet connection. What prompted the probe was an infographic posted by ASEAN DNA on Facebook showing the Philippines in the bottom three Southeast Asian countries with the slowest average internet speed, based on an Ookla speed test. That post has since gone viral, especially among disgruntled Filipino netizens.

Local IP peering was one of the possible solutions mentioned at the hearing by no less than the regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).  Soon after, a number of articles on IP peering began making the rounds on social media. There was even a change.org petition urging PLDT, the incumbent telco and largest ISP, to do local IP peering.

Now what does this tell us? The demand for better internet service has reached such a critical point that even the ordinary customer is becoming interested in something as technical as IP peering.

How and why is peering important to getting faster and more affordable internet connection? To help answer this, I had a chat with Wilson Chua, managing director and co-founder at Bitstop Network Services, Inc. Starting out in computer distribution, Bitstop next ventured into operating a franchise of paging service EasyCall and promoting Mozcom in the province of Pangasinan before branching out to call centers and data-center operations via BNShosting.net. Bitstop was the first local ISP to peer via the Philippine Open Internet Exchange (PHOpenIX), the only publicly funded, neutral, and non-profit internet exchange point in the country. Below, Chua responds to my questions on peering and how it is benefiting Philippine internet.

TA: Can you explain what local IP peering is and how it benefits an ISP like Bitstop?

Local peering happens when two or more network operators decide to “meet” each other at a common point (the internet exchange or IX). When peering, an operator agrees to let others use the interconnection link to pass traffic from its own network to another operator’s network, and vice versa. By doing so, both parties benefit from a reduction of bandwidth by using the cheaper direct links instead of the costly international circuits. Operators who peer also agree to not charge the other party for the traffic, so neither party pays for the exchanged traffic.

Local peering has several benefits:

  1. Faster access times. Our hosted clients benefit from having their sites connected directly to the local internet community in the Philippines via the shortest distance possible. This improved network performance is one of the main reasons for connecting to the IXP. In an illustration (below) from a report by Analysys Mason and Internet Society, you can see that users of ISP1 can get to ISP2 via direct peering links (red line with arrow). Without this peering, ISP1 users will have to go out of the country, use the expensive international links, pass via another carrier, and then on to another ISP3, before getting back to the country to reach ISP2. The same process happens vice versa. This is inefficient and slow, and can burden international bandwidth resources.

  1. Resiliency. As the Philippines is located in the Ring of Fire and the Typhoon belt, we see that most carriers’ links are affected by earthquakes and storms from time to time. When some of these links go down, the IX can provide an alternative path for the traffic of various operators to pass to get to each other’s local network. Going back to the illustration, suppose ISP1’s link to International Carrier 1 (purple line) goes down (like in the case of the Taiwan earthquake). Without the peered links (red line), ISP1 users will not be able to talk to ISP2 users.
  2. Community relationships. Since the exchange puts system admins in regular contact with each other, we find it easier to form communities of interest and help each other out with common issues like security (e.g., hacking and cyber-attacks).
  3. Efficient marketplace for bandwidth. Some of the IXPs have evolved into a universal market place to buy bandwidth from other peered partners. Peered partners can buy from other peers with excess bandwidth capacity, for the former to fill up spikes in their traffic. This effectively provides a market-based mechanism for internet pricing—one that is not subject to “lockdowns” by current providers.        

TA: When did you start peering? How did you find out about the PHOpenIX?

I was influenced by APNIC and Dr. William Norton, both of whom have been highlighting the power and benefits of peering exchanges since the 1990s. So from the early days, we were peered with PLDT’s PHIX. However, they price their local loop (last mile) so high such that all the other peered partners could only put in small links. This wasn’t enough to sustain the local community. Imagine a peering point with 2mbps links only. Later on, the Manila Internet eXchange (MIX) and BayanTel’s NIGX offered us a connection. We connected to these as well, but since they were telcos, I couldn’t see other telcos and ISPs connecting to these exchanges.

When I heard that the government was developing a neutral peering point, the PHOpenIX, I immediately signed up from day one. Since then, we have grown our link from a measly 512kbps to 50mbps today. 

TA: What considerations did you take before deciding to peer via the PHOpenIX?

It had to be sustainable and had to have the potential of getting a critical mass of operators using it. Peering has what we call Network Effects. As more networks are connected, the value of the peering point increases. As the Metcalf Law states, “The value of the telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.” I think the PHOpenIX is about to reach that critical mass of users with news of more operators coming in and peering.

To be continued.

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Highway Africa Conference 2014 – Call for Papers

Highway Africa Conference 2014  - Call for Papers
Theme: Social Media – from the margins to the mainstream
Dates: 7-8 September 2014
Venue: Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

Social Media – from the margins to the mainstream The birth of social media
promised much in terms of a new dawn of democratisation of communication.
There were expectations about the way social media would subvert the
relations between producers and consumers of discourses. That the people
formerly called the audience would now occupy digital spaces and talk back
to power. That these same audiences would create their own content to rival
that of the incumbent gate-keepers,  they would mediate their own
conversations, and hold vested interests (government, corporates)
accountable via scrutiny of the use/abuse of power.

With the internet, mobile technology and social media having become a
seamless part of social life, has this original idealism and valorisation of
digital technologies come to pass? Has the internet, and the applications
built on it, become instead, one large communications network that deprives
individuals of privacy and renders them vulnerable to both abusive states
and criminal gangs?

The conference invites the submission of abstracts for papers which reflect
the questions posed above. Papers should engage with some of the current
issues in social media research, media engagement with social/online
communities, the internet and how it informs social media, and the
mainstreaming of social media into everyday life, as well as media routines.
In addition, papers can address the following topics at a more specific
level:
.       The impact of social media on newsrooms’  media production processes
and distribution of content
.       Civil society, advocacy and social media
.       The rise of the individual voice in national discourse
.       The nation, sovereignty, identity and social media
.       Governance, government, politics and social media
.       Social media and elections in Africa
.       Social Media and transparency and accountability
.       Marketing, advertising and social media
.       Entertainment (music, games, movies) and social media
.       Internet governance and implications for freedom of expression,
security and privacy
.       The role of mobile in expanding freedom of expression and political
participation

Submission guidelines:
2 A4 pages:
Page 1: Title of paper and contact details of author(s), category of
submission Page 2: Abstract Deadline for submission of abstracts: 27 June
2014

See here for more detail.

 

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WG 9.4: Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries 13th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

Key dates

 Submissions Due: 3rd October 2014

Notification of Acceptance: 22nd January 2015

Resubmissions Due: 20th February 2015

Conference: 20-22 May 2015

Call for Papers

Various discourses around “openness” are present in the domain of ICT and development studies. An initial discourse in this area

related to open source software and open standards, and how these can strengthen public information systems in developing

countries. In recent times, we read about “open data” which involve governments placing relevant data in the public domain, and

which may or may not require to be supported by open software. Open development is a more overarching theme being positioned

as a theory of development, focusing on understanding how information-networked activities are carried out, in what circumstances

and to what benefit. This openness discourse continues to unfold in a political-technical environment of increasingly centralized

computing (cloud), cyber-crime, cyber-terrorism and increasingly comprehensive surveillance.

 

The conference theme of “Openness in ICT4D: Critical reflections on future directions” will seek to critically discuss different facets of

open and openness, whether they represent hype or reality or both, what promises they hold for creating a better world, and what are

the challenges and approaches we face in achieving the promised potential. To do this we welcome contributions from a wide range of

perspectives, discussing for example potential tensions between open source and open data, the role of actors like the open society

initiative in promoting openness as a value, and positive and negative freedoms.

Conference tracks

We invite those interested in participating to submit to one of the following tracks ( for more details, visit here).

  • Themes, Insights and Agendas for ICT4D Research and Practice
  • Graduate Student Track (please note optional early submission deadline)
  • Open Innovation: Governance Models, Implementation Tools, Strategies and Outcomes
  • Designing Open and Sustainable Technologies for Development
  • Disasters and Climate Change, Role of ICTs, Challenges and Opportunities for Developing Regions
  • Open Science for Development
  • Development and ICT-enabled Well-Being
  • Critical Reflections on Information Systems for Community Development
  • Health Information System Architectures
  • A Critical Understanding of ICT4D
  • Open Government for Public Service Delivery: Critical Issues, Emerging Possibilities
  • The Data Revolution in International Development
  • ICT4D in Sri Lanka – Challenges, Opportunities and Solutions

Best papers from this conference will be invited to a special issue on Openness in ICT4D for the Information Technology

for Development Journal.

Submissions

Conference submissions will be by email to ifip9.4.2015[at]gmail.com. All papers will be blind peer-reviewed before acceptance, and

the conference proceedings will be published. We accept both Full Research Papers (maximum 5000 words) and Research in

Progress/Practitioner Reports of Experience and Reflection (maximum 2500 words). All papers must specify their type (full or research

in progress/practitioner) and track (1 – 13).

Please download the submission template here.

Please access Call for Papers PDF here.

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Philippines’ slow and costly internet puzzle

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

Barely a month after the Philippines celebrated—with much pizzazz—the 20th anniversary of its first internet connection, the ASEAN released an infographic showing the country having the slowest average internet speed (3.6 Mbps) in the region.

Isn’t it ironic? No, it’s just embarrassing.

The infographic has since gone viral. And being the social media capital of the world, many Filipinos who have long been suffering from slow internet took to Facebook and Twitter to rant about the problem.

Isn’t it ironic? No, it’s paradoxical.

Mainstream media soon caught up, with all major dailies reporting on the story state of the Philippine internet compared to its neighboring ASEAN nations. Many were quick to point out that the country fared even worse than Laos (4.0 Mbps) and Myanmar (4.9 Mbps) whose economies lag behind that of the Philippines.

Isn’t it ironic? No, it’s sort of pitiful.

A recent Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)-commissioned report ranked the Philippines a very low 53 out of 65 countries in terms of infrastructure, which measures “fixed- and mobile-broadband connections, bandwidth speeds, pricing as well as the number of networks, Internet service providers (ISPs), and Internet exchange points (IXPs).”

The same report shows the country ranked much worse when it came to internet bandwidth per capita (54th), international internet bandwidth per capita (55th), and consumer broadband penetration (57th). In fixed-broadband pricing, the Philippines was ranked 8th most expensive among 65 countries, while mobile pricing was the 24th cheapest.

Isn’t it ironic? No, it’s just a little weird.

Why does the Philippines have slow and expensive internet connection? Here is an initial look at the “slow and costly internet” puzzle, and some possible solutions.

Nature actually plays a part in the problem. It is very challenging and expensive to connect an archipelagic country like the Philippines. But geography is just one piece of the puzzle. The rest of it has to do with competition, infrastructure, spectrum, as well as policymaking and planning—things that can be controlled.

No barrier should be too difficult for innovation to hurdle. But when the players are too few and their power remains unchecked, experts argue that this effectively stifles innovation and removes incentives for progress. The business of broadband is down to two major players, and the growing demand shows a need for a third service provider.

Infrastructure is another piece. With more subscribers, the capacity of telecom networks should increase. Using the same logic, if capacity is not improving, then the number of subscription should also be checked. Otherwise, the networks will suffer from overcapacity.

Both PLDT/Smart and Globe have invested in massive modernization programs to increase their network’s capacity. PLDT completed in 2012 its two-year $1.6 billion capital expenditure program for modernizing its network, and this year set aside 29 billion pesos, 25% of which will be spent for fiber optic rollout and about 65% for broadband. Meanwhile, Globe completed in 2013 the first phase of its $790 million modernization program geared towards improving mobile and internet services. All these are in anticipation of a growing demand for data services.

However, it has yet to be seen how these investments in infrastructure would translate to better internet services, especially for the low-end internet market. The BPO industry and other high-end broadband users stand to gain from these network upgrades and expansion. Disappointingly, even the LTE services of both telcos are slow compared to those offered in other countries.

Spectrum poses another limitation. McKinsey points out that the traditional means by which operators meet the demand in voice-centric mobile networks (i.e., modernize networks, acquire and use new spectrum, and build macro cellular sites) should be different when dealing with mobile data. Government needs to update spectrum policies and key stakeholders need to acquire more spectrum assets, share network and spectrum assets, and re-farm existing spectrum assets, among other things.

Finally, the country needs to update ICT-related policies and craft a national broadband plan. There needs to be a law that promotes and enables universal ICT access, internet-related innovation in various sectors, while safeguarding both internet freedom and cybersecurity. The bill on the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom has all these components. It is also necessary to have a national broadband plan that would lay down the vision and strategy of how to fully and effectively connect the country. This plan should serve as a detailed roadmap for policymakers, government agencies, regulators, and various market players on how to expand and improve broadband connection in the coming years.

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African Technology Landscape

Historically, the use and development of ICT tools was not swift in Africa. Until the late ‘90s, ICT tools like web, VOIP, databases, mobile apps, computer software and online collaboration tools were not used extensively. Therefore, ICT was not really engaged in homes and many businesses. Except for a few multinationals, international organizations and government technology agencies, ICT was mainly accessed in form of fixed and mobile telephony and satellite technology services. The cost-benefit ratio of integrating ICT to business activities, and for educational and domestic use was unfavourable. The technical expertise for its setup and maintenance was relatively scarce. Unfortunately, there were no ICT policies to drive economic development through widespread adoption.

Around the mid-90s, some passionate entrepreneurs and technocrats, in conjunction with democratic African governments, realized the potentials of intense ICT adoption on Africa’s economy and fully embraced its transfer to the continent. Consequently, many African countries began to apply more technology to their economies and the need for relevant ICT4D policies was identified. The initial evidences of ICT adoption came as indigenous ISPs that offered highly scalable internet services to many SMEs, cybercafés and some homes. But the rate of ICT adoption was slow and the pricing of services were unaffordable. So, it was difficult to realise widespread digital culture among natives of the continent. However, when the telcos arrived, the focus of ICT services gradually shifted to individuals and the prevailing mobile tech moved from 2G to 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G and 4G/LTE.

Today, many Africans are able to use web tools, computer apps, mobile apps, portable internet devices and e-payment services for both their business and personal activities. Yet, the continuity in price reduction and widespread tech adoption among a continental market of about 1.099 billion bears more promise for the future of technology in Africa.

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20 Years of Philippine Internet

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

 

I was 20 years old when I first got exposed to the internet. Having come from a family that did not own a computer, I barely knew how or why to go “online.” Right after graduating in 1998, I became a research assistant for a university professor who introduced me to emails.

Being the non-techie that I was, you can only imagine my astonishment when I found out that a computer can “connect” with other computers worldwide. Since then, the internet has pretty much become a part of my research profession.

Today, the internet is a part of everything. The United Nations declared that access to it is a human right. The World Bank has been touting the economic impact of broadband connectivity. And the developed world is abuzz with wonderment about the so-called Internet of Things.

Who knew that the internet would become this big?

Back in 1993, connecting the Philippines to the Internet began as a small “project” proposed by Dr. William “Bill” Torres, former director-general of the National Computer Center, who “discovered” that the internet can be brought into the country as acommercial product.

The government, through the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) under the project administration of Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy “ Villarica, gave an initial grant funding of ten million pesos. This amount was used to buy equipment and pay for the leased line connecting to the United States, with a capacity of 64 kbps costing about $10,000 per month back then.

Both Dr. Torres and Dr. Villarica are now known as the fathers of the Philippine internet.

On March 29, 1994, PILNET (later on, PHNet), which consisted of a bunch of engineers from various universities, connected the Philippines to the internet. And the rest is history.

Twenty years hence, cost has significantly gone down and internet in the country has expanded to government offices, businesses, households, and individual citizens. The Philippines has adapted well to this technology so much so that it has recorded the biggest internet population growth globally over the past five years.

Internet connectivity has spurred a wide new range of businesses, and especially so for the telecommunication sector that had just been liberalized in the mid-1990s. According to the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), there were 360 registered ISPs nationwide in 2012, up from 93 a decade earlier. Network equipment and value-added services today have a huge demand. A lot of businesses have also ventured, and are thriving, online.

Barely 10 years after the internet was introduced, business process outsourcing (BPO) services emerged. Today, the Philippines is a top location for BPOs whose export revenues hit $13.34 billion http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/news/top-news/25327-bpos-m… in 2013.

Filipinos have discovered in the internet another medium for communication and self-expression. Over the past years, we have been ranked as among the heaviest users of Facebook, photo-sharing, and online videos. This is no surprise because the country is, after all, the texting capital of the world.

But after 20 years, an ecosystem of problems continues to stifle the development of internet in the country.

Unlike mobile phone service that has nationwide coverage and over 100% of penetration, only 36% of the population is able to use the internet; and this is mainly through public access. Home internet use is still low at 20%, albeit growing.

Uptake continues to be restricted by high cost. Post-paid subscription to a 1Mbps fixed broadband connection costs around $22, with a two-year lock-in period. In prepaid mobile connection, the amount of data that one is allowed to consume is regulated. A prepaid mobile connection of 3 Mbps has a data cap of 1GB per day or 3GB per month.

In urban centers, the quality of internet connection tends to be generally poor.http://lirneasia.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Broadband-QoSE-report-Ma… The lack of internet infrastructure is most apparent outside the cities where the Internet, if at all present, is available mainly through shared access points, such as schools, internet cafés, and telecenters.

In a recent conference, Dr. Torres, who now works with the National Academy for Science and Technology, says that the country needs to focus and invest in an ICT infrastructure on a national scale, “and it has to be broadband.” The private telcos is the primary provider of ICT infrastructure in the country.

Benjie Tan, one of the country’s internet pioneers and who is now with Globe Telecom, thinks that the cost of data should go down. And to do this, the industry should find a way to offer data separate from voice services, such as through the use of TV White Space.

Another way to bring down cost, according to the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), is by using local internet exchanges. There must be interconnection within the country, and telcos must collaborate to do this.

The right policy environment to promote innovation not just in technology but also in business models has to be in place. And the government has the sole responsibility and mandate to achieve this. Unfortunately, legislation over the past decade seems to have prioritized regulating the internet over nurturing its potential. In internet policy, it would help to remember how the technology evolved. William Yu, president of the Internet Society – Philippines Chapter, emphasized how the internet developed because it was a“permissionless innovation”—unrestricted, unregulated, and growing from the bottom up.

A national broadband plan can be a good start. However, it remains embedded in the Philippine Digital Strategy and efforts to put a more detailed plan in the spotlight have remained in the pipeline for quite some time.

While there are doubts about the government building and operating its own ICT infrastructure, it can and should play the lead role in laying down a vision for ICT infrastructure, crafting the strategy to achieve this, and bringing various players together to achieve a national goal.

The government can initiate a universal access program that bypasses the telcos. The DOST is making headway in this regard. It is promoting and jumpstarting the use of TVWS and, just a few days ago, pilot-tested the technology in Bohol province.

Finally, the government should strengthen regulation that is focused on the protection of consumer welfare. While liberalization has made the telecom market more dynamic and robust, it is critical for government to ensure that the ISPs are providing services as advertised, and that the consumers are well represented and heard.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the mobile phone success story. More players and an innovative retail payment scheme proved critical to the mobile boom in the country. Today, mobile phones and smartphones are fast overcoming computers as the medium for internet access. It is predicted that the Philippines will be a “mobile-first”http://technology.inquirer.net/35099/ph-mobile-first-by-last-quarter-of-… country before the end of the year.

The poor state of Philippine Internet can be accounted for by limited competition and choice for consumers. Only three ISPs operated by just two telcos dominate the market: Smart Communications and Sun Cellular, owned by the PLDT Group; and Globe Telecom. These ISPs also offer wireless mobile dongles—the most pervasive, albeit not the most effective, mode of internet connection available nationwide.

While the options for the consumers are becoming more limited, the opportunities for telcos’ business are becoming endless. In recent years, the dominant telcos have been buying out the smaller players. Of course this is not bad, per se. But when there is ineffective competition and fewer options, innovation and consumer welfare tend to suffer.

Twenty years after, it seems like Philippine internet is barely coming out of its adolescent years. It is high time for it to mature and shape up—by having a reliable nationwide infrastructure, a pro-innovation and pro-consumer policy environment, and effective competition that brings affordable and quality services. Hopefully, Filipinos don’t have to wait another 20 years for this and to get the Internet they deserve.

Some information are based on stories and documentation of internet pioneers such as Jim Ayson, Winthrop Yu and Kelsey Hartigan-Go posted online. 

 

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