Inclusion in the Information Society in Asia

Over the past decade, South Asia saw a rapid growth in electronic connectivity among the poor and the rich, among men as well as women. Yet access to the Internet and to more-than-voice services is quite uneven. Those at the Top of the Pyramid are rapidly adopting the applications available over smartphones while those at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) are using mostly voice over feature phones that are quite rudimentary. While the divide in terms of simple e-connectivity has narrowed, those at BOP face a problem of being excluded from the rich potential of services and applications offered through the Internet. As developing countries gradually embrace technologically mediated information networks, the present proposal seeks to contribute to the inclusion of the currently marginalized so they benefit from the opportunities offered through these networked technologies.

Specifically, LIRNEasia intends to focus its research agenda on four interlinked modules:

The first will assess the factors that are inhibiting the wider participation of the excluded from the more than voice applications. If those at the BOP are to use the rich functionalities of the Internet in significant numbers, relevant applications will need to be produced. The telecom sector has effectively focused its attention on using the capabilities of e-connectivity to manage customer relationships and to collect and analyze data in order to offer targeted services to the BOP. Governments have also sought to use ICTs to offer essential services such as early warning of disasters, agricultural information, and pension payments. LIRNEasia intends to study large scale ICT deployed applications to better understand how they are being used to manage customers¿ relations. By contrasting and comparing the telecom sector and another utility service; electricity supply; which is managed by government or private entities acting on behalf of the government, more can be learned on how best to serve the poor. The hope is to use research-generated evidence in a way that will inform governments as they reply on the near-ubiquity of the mobile to provide more services of interest to those at the BOP. The analysis of the mobile industry will be combined and contrasted with that from the electricity industry to gain more credibility with decision makers responsible for other government services. This project will complement conventional efforts being undertaken to promote e- government in the countries of interest: India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh/Bhutan.

The second theme intends to research how to use big data to answer specific development questions. Big data, also known as transaction-generated information (TGI), is information acquired from commercial and noncommercial transactions involving individuals in many increasingly computerized day-to-day activities. Examples of commercial transactions include withdrawing money from an ATM machine or credit-card shopping; examples of noncommercial transactions include checking books out of a library or participating in an online educational program. At present, the only streams of comprehensive big data that are of relevance to the poor are those generated by mobile networks. For example, Weslowski and Eagle conducted studies on migration into and within the Kibera slum in Nairobi using mobile base transceiver station (BTS) data. Claxton et al. (2010 & 2012) used big data from fixed networks to document new forms of connectedness in the United Kingdom. LIRNEasia has secured the agreement from two major mobile operators in Sri Lanka to have access to their data from BTS. The proposed research seeks to identify communities based on actual communication patterns rather than administrative boundaries. The objective is to contribute to an evidence-based discussion on the optimum demarcations of cities and related public-policy issues. The research hopes to inform the 23 municipalities in Sri Lanka, including Colombo.
A related activity will be that of developing guidelines for the ethical use of mobile network big data. This activity will also contribute to the overall objective of creating the conditions for greater access to big data for development research purposes. LIRNEasia proposes to develop a self-regulatory regime for the collection and use of mobile data.

The third stream of research will focus on providing assistance to Myanmar where the recent political changes have created a policy window for evidence based policy research to help this country reduce its exclusion given that it has the lowest mobile penetrations in the world. According to reports from the World Economic Forum in Bangkok in June 2012, Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi responded to a question on ¿what sectors she would like to promote first?¿; telecom sector as the need to have mobile phones for development is real. LIRNEasia would like to conduct research reflecting on the experience of other countries at similar stage of telecom development to highlight successes, failures and options. LIRNEasia has already made some contacts with policy makers in Myanmar and will use its research to offer advice and organise short courses targeting policy makers who are exploring the reform of the sector.

The final theme intends to ensure the quality of broadband for BOP users. As more people get connected and more applications that consume a lot of bandwidth are produced, more capacity is needed to ensure a reliable internet service. LIRNEasia would like to actively participate in the policy debate on broadband quality. LIRNEasia research on broadband quality of service has shown that performance degrades when Internet use involves international backhaul (Galapaya & Zuhyle, 2011). International backhaul from Asia costs 3-6 times more than in Europe and North America. Asia (and Africa until recently) is exceptional in relying almost totally on submarine cables for international backhaul. Even with regard to submarine cable, the Indian Ocean between the Malacca Straits and the Suez Canal has fewer cables than other regions. This region also faces the most threats for Somali pirates, driving up submarine cable costs. Given Asia¿s population and economic growth trends, data traffic will rapidly increase in the coming years. Through this research, LIRNEasia hopes to make evidence-based contributions that will prevent the expected congestion and quality problems from reaching levels that would impact BOP participation in the Internet.

The research addresses I&N¿s inclusion outcome area. The project should provide evidence on the way the marginalized are affected by emerging networked societies. The research hopes to provide evidence so that policy makers have a greater understanding of the needs and the behaviors of the urban poor for more effective leveraged ICT services. It also hopes to inform governments so they are more inclined to tap into big data sources for evidence based policy making.

LIRNEasia is a long time IDRC recipient that has consistency delivered solid research results in the past with proven policy influence outcomes. LIRNEasia continues to be dependent on IDRC funding support which motivated its high risk rating. LIRNEasia has however developed over these past few years a more sophisticated fundraising strategy, which has resulted in funding from the Ford Foundation and the World Bank. Risks related to access to data to conduct part of this research is mitigated by the fact that LIRNEasia has already obtained the written consent of two mobile operators. The research on big data should inform IDRC¿s thinking around research ethics.

Project ID

107077

Project status

Completed

End Date

Monday, June 29, 2015

Duration

24 months

IDRC Officer

Phet Sayo

Total funding

CA$ 1,670,895

Program

Information and Networks in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa 

Project Leader

Helani Galpaya

Institution

LirneAsia

Institution Country

Sri Lanka

Institution Website

http://www.lirneasia.net

Project Leader

Helani Galpaya

Institution

LirneAsia

Institution Country

Sri Lanka

Institution Website

http://www.lirneasia.net