Opportunities for Action as A4AI Forms First Asian Coalition
A4AI kicked off its activities in Myanmar — where hopes and expectations are high for the government and telecom operators to deliver Internet access as widely and quickly as possible — on March 26 by hosting a forum that brought together more than 75 of the country’s influential stakeholders from the government, private sector, and civil society. The forum provided participants an opportunity to discuss and identify openly the biggest challenges to expanding affordable Internet access in a country where only 15 percent of the population use the Internet — up from a 2013 use rate of just over 1 percent.
Challenges to expanding access
During the forum, representatives from private sector organisations, government departments, and civil society organisations highlighted the biggest obstacles they face in expanding Internet access. These include:
- Expanding networks to the approximately 70 percent of the population that live in rural areas, often without electrical power;
- Lack of coordination among operators and regional and local authorities, in addition to a lack of streamlined processes for rolling out telecoms networks and building necessary infrastructure;
- Lack of public awareness on the benefits of using the Internet and ICTs in general;
- General lack of ICT data and formal processes to collect such data; and
- Lack of staff and institutional capacity to address the policy and regulatory needs of a fast-growing sector, including an independent regulatory agency that has not yet been fully set up.
Deputy Minister U Thaung Tin stressed that the government is facing immense political pressure from parliament and citizens to expand Internet access to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. He shared his hope that Myanmar’s partnership with A4AI will allow the country to learn from the successes and failures of other countries, and ensure that the policies and regulations necessary for expanding affordable Internet are developed with the input of all of Myanmar’s stakeholders.
Developing the coalition’s plan of action
After an open debate surrounding the primary challenges to affordable Internet in Myanmar, forum participants determined that the A4AI-Myanmar Coalition should prioritise and focus on tackling the following issues:
- Infrastructure Sharing and Deployment
- Universal Service Fund Administration
- Data Collection & Research Framework
In the coming months, working groups will be formed to work through each of these priority areas.