How To Engage In Broadband Policy And Regulatory Processes – 5 Days In Maarawila


Organized by Lirneasia in partnership with Sarvodata Fusion with the support of the Ford Foundation, I was fortunate to be selected to attend a 4 day residential course titled “How to engage in broadband policy and regulatory processes”.

Broadband. A term often heard in Sri Lanka. Whether complaining about it or bragging about how fast your download speeds are, we all use broadband internet in our day to day lives. But, are we getting broadband of adequate quality? What developments have been made in the telecommunication field to provide broadband access to all citizens in Sri Lanka? Well I was about to find out.

Our usual methods for events would not work here. I actually had to apply for this event.

Held at Club Palm Bay, Maarawila, the course goal was to study and gather available research and evidence with relation to broadband, its policies and regulatory processes and establish a means of increasing broadband access to the poor. Over the course of 5 days, 20 participants would attend workshops and interactive sessions where at the end of it, they would be required to put forth a policy brief to a panel of judges summarizing their findings and also their recommendations for the application of new policies.

September 24th was the day that we would leave to Maarawila. With bag and baggage packed, I armed myself with an Umbrella and made my way to the Fort Railway station. From there, we would take a tour bus to Maarawila. The Lirneasia researchers and we exchanged pleasantries and soon we were off. The journey was rather quick due to the improvement of the highway and we arrived at the hotel around 8.30pm. From there it was just a matter of allocating ourselves to rooms and unpacking the necessities before being called in for dinner and then turning in for the night.

The first day of the course dawned, bright and cold. After a warm breakfast, we huddled together in the conference room of Club Palm Bay to begin the session.

The first session was conducted by Prof. Rohan Samarajeeva, a well-known figure indeed. He gave us a general introduction to the course and got down to the brunt of the matter; increasing broadband access to the poor

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Prof. Rohan Samarajiva addressing the participants. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

The key word here – catalyzing. It is something small that is used to make BIG changes.

Prof. Rohan spoke about Aristotle and his views on effective communication such as Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Overall, we were off to a very interesting start.

The next session for the day was conducted by Nilusha Kapugama, her topic being how exactly to find what we are looking for. The main reasons we look for information/evidence are:

  • To know what has already been done in your area of interest
  • To strengthen your arguments or substantiate your POV
  • To learn about opposing view points
  • To understand what works best

If however, you are a tad more academically inclined, you can conduct further research as well. Google, Wikipedia, specific institutional websites, crowd source of Social media platforms, these are all valuable sources of information that you can use for your research.

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Nilusha Kapugama on Research. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

But what we much understand is that here is a LOT of information, more often than not, TOO MUCH information. So how do we make our lives easy?

Well for starters, you can build up a number of reliable current sources. If you’re a journo, govt institutes, other institutions and personal contacts work. If you’re a researcher, academic sources would be your pot of gold. The trick with both however, is to learn how to navigate them.

Her advice for searching on Google; use the Advanced Search option. This allows you to filter details such as last updated in order to get the latest information related to your topic.

That session was immediately followed by another session, again conducted by Nilusha on demand side research. This is basically a study of the end users/consumers or analysis of data from customers or end users. Can be either qualitative (for example, how many people have multiple SIMs) and quantitative (WHY do people have multiple SIMs)

A Qualitative Research is in-depth and detailed. It also helps understand problems from the perspective of the affected local population. Case studies, Focus groups, Unstructured interviews, Ethnographic studies and Photo novellas are just some examples for this

As with any type of demand side research, there are a code of ethics.

  • Prevention of deception – why what and who
  • Protection of privacy
  • Obtain informed consent

She also covered practical lessons for qualitative research such as whether or not compensation is required for the interviewee. This again is debatable and depends on the situation. There is a certain level of bias to a compensation for a focus group.

Following a hearty lunch, the participants were divided into their respective groups and given a brief on what their assignment would be.

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Laleema Senanayake explaining the assignments. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

After sorting us into groups, Prof. Rohan was back talking to us on the Introduction to legal research and the 19th Amendment

Law is deceptively easy

“Anyone can analyze written text”but if so, why are there lawyers and why are many of them rich and powerful. Words by themselves have no power. It is the way they are interpreted by those who have power.

He also explained the Hierarchy of Authority and the differences between a policy, a plan and a strategy. Relevant presentations and supplication reading material is available here.

With that, Day One of the course came to an end with the 5 groups being assigned a separate timeframe dedicated to their assignment. This was followed by dinner and a bit of socializing to get to know one-another.

Day two dawned pretty much the same way day one did. After breakfast the participants, myself included headed to the conference room to begin the next sessions.

Prof. Rohan was the first speaker for the day, talking to us about the baseline knowledge about ICT in Sri Lanka ICT. He explains about the Internet Ecosystem and all of its elements. He also spoke about comparative indicators comparing Sri Lanka to other countries such as Ghana, Myanmar and Vietnam. Population pyramids, literacy rates, access to IT, mobile cellular subscriptions, and internet users, all

Nilusha Kapugama was next explaining how to assess and summarize research for the final assignments due in just two more days. Her talk was very informative and she shared her expansive knowledge with all participants equally.

After lunch it was Helani Galpaya addressing the participants on how to interrogate supply side indicators and the last session for the day was an introduction to quantitative research conducted by Vigneswara Ilavasaran. Similar to the previous day, once the sessions were over, the participants huddled together to put their new found knowledge to paper in order to complete their presentation and policy briefs.

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Helani Galpaya on Supply Side Interrogation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

Day three dawned somewhat wetter and colder than the previous two days but that would not deter the 20 young minds set on changing the world. The first session for the day was a comparative study of National broadband networks of India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. This was followed by a study on demand-side stimulation, and a brief look into ICT policies, strategies and plans, all carried out by Prof. Rohan Samarajiva.

After lunch it was back to Prof. Rohan as he spoke about the regulatory approaches taken towards broadband quality of service.

The last session for the day was indeed a controversial one. Net Neutrality, zero ratings and their applicability in conditions of low internet access. Certainly a tongue twister indeed but nevertheless a hot topic these days indeed.

There would be no more sessions. The groups got together for one last stand to finish off their projects due for the next day. Throughout the hall, there was pin drop silence broken only by the clicking of a mouse or typing on a laptop keyboard.

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

Day four, the final day. Nervous as we all were, we still managed to have a good breakfast and then headed to the conference room. The morning session involved a Panel discussion with regard to making policies and doing regulations. The panel consisted of Mr. Wasantha Deshapriya, Ministry Secretary and Mr. Muhunthan Canagey, CEO of ICTA with Prof. Rohan Samarajiva acting as Moderator. The panel was quite an interactive one with the panelists sharing their experience with regard to the topic as well as feedback from the participants with relation to their own experiences. The information that they shared helped put the final touches on all the presentations and clear up any last minute doubts.

The end of the panel discussion signaled the break for lunch which everyone seemed eager to finish.

At last it was time to showcase the purpose of this conference; the presentations. Each group would be allocated 12 minutes for their presentation and a further 13 minutes allocated for a Q&A session.

  • Group 1- “Providing affordable broadband of adequate quality throughout Sri Lanka.
Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Group 1 – Presentation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena
  • Group 2 – Services and Applications that are of value to Sri Lankan users
Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Group 2 Presentation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena
  • Group 3 – Trust and Security
Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Group 3 Presentation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena
  • Group 4 – Affordable terminal devices that all can use, with special attention being paid to the elderly and differently abled
Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Group 4 Presentation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena
  • Group 5 – Skilled Users
Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
Group 5 Presentation. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

Each group presented their findings to the best of their abilities and the panel commented that they were indeed impressed by the hard work and dedication put in the policy briefs and presentations despite having only a limited time frame. Presentations and policy briefs of all the groups can be viewed here.

By 5pm all presentations were complete and the panel had given their feedback. There would be no winners but rather everyone would be a part of something bigger, which is akin to winning anyway. The day’s festivities however, were far from being complete. The groups were asked to return to their lodgings to prepare for the certificate dinner. Held in Waikkal, the dinner brought all the participants including the panel of judges for a bit of socializing and merrymaking.

Photo Credits - Radhika Gunawardena
A participant receiving a certificate from Mr. Wasantha Deshapriya. Photo Credits – Radhika Gunawardena

Day Five and the final day it was. Following a scrumptious breakfast, we gathered our belongings, handed over our room keys ad made our way to the hotel lobby where the bus would take us back to Colombo.

It was not ye average event, but it was quite eventful nonetheless. Upon reaching Colombo, we bid each other goodbye with the promise of keeping in touch and the happy thoughts that we could be the change we wish to see in the world.


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