Archive for November, 2009

Bill Shock, how long?

Bill Shock, how long?

I don’t travel much but couple of them in a year won’t hurt. If you stay in some countries for day or two or transiting through, it’s not economically viable to buy prepay local SIM. It is even harder buying SIMs without proper verifications/IDs in some countries, as required by the local regulation. Being veteran skyper, my blackberry never gets any data roaming, while SMS roaming still stays out of my reach.

The first thing will cross your mind, why don’t I get roaming feature in my handset while traveling abroad?

First, the regulation isn’t that easy from the financial regulator, though the telecommunication regulator can step in to settle this but acute shortage of manpower is holding them back even providing the basic regulatory chores.

Yes, you have to have foreign credit/debit card. Then, I believe – paying in local currency could have better track record in calling expenditure.

Second, the charges are astronomically high even you are traveling in SAARC region. On the job, roaming complains are hard to mitigate due to absence of transparent tariff structure. The “bill shock” is still a common phenomenon for Bangladeshi roamer and sufferings can be prolonged one.

Have you heard of EU regulatory framework on roaming charges?

European Regulatory Framework Directive and the Commission Recommendation on relevant markets of 2003, telecommunication regulatory authorities (TRAs) obliged to define and assess the conditions of effective competition in the “national wholesale market for international roaming services on public mobile networks” (as described in WIR -market n. 17/2003).

EU retail roaming charges were roughly five times higher than domestic tariffs. Due to lack of retail price transparency; many consumers were not aware of the high charges for receiving calls. The regulatory body understood that situation which cannot be solved using existing regulatory tools.

After two levels of public consultations with all the stakeholders and consumers, the EU regulatory body enforced a new regulation on a uniform/flat tariff. In this regulation, the mobile carriers will also be required to bill customers for roaming calls by the second after the first 30 seconds, instead of on a per-minute basis. Meanwhile, data roaming charges has dropped dramatically.

The result, consumers are free from all those “bill shock”.

The South Asian Telecommunications Regulators’ Council (SATRC) can be the best suited strategy ground where all SAARC regulators can come together fixing this “bill shock”. Let me share one of our (SATRC Working Group Report) documents on “Regional Network Connectivity and Roaming and Tariff Issues among SATRC Countries“. [Mirror]

This has highlighted the present scenario of roaming charges in SAARC region.

I must share about Zain, a mobile company based in Kuwait, operates in 24 countries, 8 of them are in the Middle east, and 15 countries in Africa. While traveling through Lebanon, I found them providing local rates (local-calling-rates / free-receiving / data / local-top-up / free-voicemail / free-customer-care) between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, Niger, Chad, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo.

They call it One Network!

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It must have been a week while I was attending one of the briefing sessions after the ministerial team visited “The Internet Governance Forum (IGF)” as held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

What was it for Bangladesh being in IGF, the Internet governance lobbying ground?

The team requested ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom on the inclusion of Bangla script compatible domain names as Egypt and Russia has sent similar proposals for their own IDNs.

By the way, why do we need IDN?

This Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) has been talked at length in this IGF. For last couple of years, these IDNs have become a hot topic in the field of Internet governance. As the number of non-English speakers [non Latin-based script] on the Internet grows exponentially, the limitations of the Domain Name System [DNS] have become evident to many.

It has also been said that over half the Internet users around the world don’t use a Latin-based script as their native language. It might sound great when ICANN will allow this floodgate to expand the global reach of the Internet by introducing the top-level domains in non-Latin character sets. It will help over half the world’s population who uses alphabets other than Latin, to let them read and write domain names and email addresses in their native languages. But, one thing I know for sure, search is getting hard in coming days.

It is true that the genuine community voice of the local populations in their own new idnGTLDs can be given a chance to be heard. But, then – in case of Bangladesh, adopting Bengali domain might lead us to the island syndrome where we may not be found by the international communities. It is fantastic solution for localized content, and are we there yet? Some has concerns as we need to avoid restricting new idnGTLDs to governments, many of which are often repressive or takes months to process, and we must also avoid handing the market to the Internet incumbents.

What is there for us and why isn’t everyone’s interested for IDN?

I’m not disapproving it, but are we done yet, with the keyboards war? Well, there is a keyword called “priority” before we proceed with this IDN thing. Yes, leapfrogging is great idea but sometimes shortcuts lead to nowhere.

And, under ICANN’s current plan, the only IDN domains are allowed are in country-code domains controlled by governments, like Bangladesh’s .bd, China’s .cn, and India’s .in. Here comes the moment of truth, who is administering the .bd domain?

The UAE telecom regulator [TRA] is promoting its fierce campaign for the local domain .ae [I would be surprised if you can’t find couple of promotional ads in middle eastern telecom magazines and sites] by saying …

If it’s in the UAE it’s gotta be .ae!

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has also re-delegated the UAE ENUM space (971) to TRA, which in turn delegated it to aeDA [TRA’s initiative] to manage the country top level domain [.ae ccTLD] from both administrative and technical perspectives in compliance with international best practices. According to TRA, they are aiming to attract around 200,000 registrants by 2010!

The current .bd domain administrator has acute shortage of manpower and the regulatory body has the domain administration authority in the amended act. As always, blame it on the predecessors; but this is an extra job when you don’t have proper organogram for it.

If we talk about priorities, what should be done next?

Licensing the .bd domain administration to an able body or to prepare the proposal for Bangla IDN?

Please have a look at the preparation phase of IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process, welcome to the real world.

Politically, “both” would sound perfect even if I subscribe to a different school of thought!  Please be advised that it is all about empowerment of local communities doing local businesses. It is mostly about business friendly policies not only Bangla script that matters.

And, please, please fix the keyboard layout!

Happy Eid-Ul-Azha!

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