ICTA’s Bullshit

Is there anyone from Google out there? Anyone?
Good. If there is, know that you – and the company you work for – are now part of Sri Lanka’s many political campaigns.

Let me explain. I’m looking at a copy of the DailyFT. On the front page is a photo of Muhunthan Canagey shaking hands with Mike Cassidy, VP at Google at head of Project Loon. “Sri Lanka creates universal internet access world history” with Google Loon, reads the headline. “First affordable highspeed internet to all citizens…in conjuction with ICTA’s plans for 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots.”

It was this photo, but from a different angle.
It was this photo, but from a different angle.

What rubbish.

I’m sure everyone remembers ICTA’s ‘free Wi-Fi’: a move where ICTA basically went to the telecommunications companies, told them to allocate a certain number of megabytes per citizen in the country, and to get that shit into the Fort Railway Station ASAP. This they then threw out to the media as yet another lovely project by your friendly neighborhood bureaucracy.  Yahapalanaya, ft ICTA.

When it failed, they tried to pass it off as a big data experiment, a test to see what people are browsing.

Of course. Why did we not think of it before? Instead of obtaining the internet access data and analytics from telcos, why don’t we set up free Wi-Fi portals so we can see what kind of porn they watch while waiting for the train?

But I digress. Free Wi-Fi was a stupid thing to promise, and it’s still stupid, especially for Sri Lanka*.The kind of data capacity a person can consume these days, even doing something as simple as checking email, comes at a hefty price**. Really, the only way it’s actually doable is if you printed the words “One country, one kbps” on your corporate T-shirt and set to it with the business ethics of SLT.***


Free Wi-Fi was a publicity stunt. Not that the  reporters writing this drivel seem to understand this.

Now we’re witnessing a second publicity stunt: Google Loon. The papers are full of wonderfully vague promises. Affordable internet to all? Yes, sure.

Let me be clear. I think Loon is brilliant. I think Chamath Palihapitiya, a Silicon valley-based investor who apparently made the necessary introductions, should receive a hearty pat on the back…

from SLT executives, not from the public.

Because, let’s be perfectly realistic: Loon is not going to disrupt SLT, Dialog or any other service provider: that’s not how it works. Instead, Loon simply extends the reach of these networks with 4G. Those 13 balloons are like giant 4G antennas in the sky. Google gains a testbed – a small country with sub-par connectivity and exisiting infrastructure. The telcos gain giant amplifiers hung in the sky. A single balloon is capable of covering an area of 5000 square kilometers.


What this means is that SLT  ‘connectivity’ will now be available for everyone to curse at – everyone with a 4G device, that is. Note that nowhere does it say ‘free’: it says ‘affordable’, which is Sri Lankan for ‘we will bill the shit out of you’.

And, pardon me, I don’t see your average haminey with a 4G dongle. That shit is expensive, even for me.  So, long story short: SLT 4G (and Dialog 4G, if they’re in on it) is getting a free boost. We, the people, are not. So stop clapping your hands.

In the meanwhile, all that rhetoric in the papers? “Foreign Affairs Minister, Mangala Samaraweera told the gathering, that the Sri Lankan people were at the cusp of reclaiming their heritage of being connected to each other and connected to the world.”  Reclaiming heritage, my arse. The Foreign Affairs minister should instead have pointed out the auspicious timing this announcement has with the upcoming election. His next statement was more revealing: “In a few months we will be able to say that Sri Lanka [is] covered.”

Yes, that’s exactly what this thing is: a politician’s ability to say that “Sri Lanka” is “Covered”. After all, that’s exactly what EVERYTHING in this country boils down to. Sri Lanka Telecom tells you service is available and sells you a shitty connection that doesn’t connect for more than five minutes at a time. The electricity folks sell you powercuts. ICTA, and whoever’s running this program, can say they did their part for the current government.

Sri Lanka, wonderful land of statistics: the land where we know the coverage of everything, but the value of absolutely nothing.

But I digress. It seems that not only the stars, but also balloons are smiling down upon Yahalpalanaya. I’d give anything to know what they’re grinning at. In the meantime, here’s to ICTA, election campaigner extraordinaire. They should stop being an IT agency and start being an ad agency instead.

*We don’t have an IXP in the country and the bulk of content we use is hosted overseas, leading to massive costs as the data travels up and down the pipes (undersea cables) that we don’t own.

**Add to that the inevitable guy who will stream anime from it and screw it up for everyone in a 10-km radius … 

***We can get a bit more technical here: unless you have ridiculously expensive Wi-Fi equipment (like industrial Cisco or Juniper routers) the number of connections you can make to even an industrial Wi-Fi router is actually fairly small: this is why Dialog’s 2000+ Wi-Fi hotspots also double as hotspot topics for customer complaints.  You’re looking at massive investments – where does the money come from?

*** For more food for thought, read what ReadMe has to say. http://readme.lk/google-loon-launches-sri-lanka/

11 thoughts on “ICTA’s Bullshit

    1. It originated from people thinking it’s free. Check Facebook. Automatic association with Google’s ‘free’ Fiber, perhaps.

  1. and the boost is what we need right now. there are many areas which not getting 3G signal properly. while the people in town areas get 16-30mbps, we stuck at 3 to 8mbps max with the same dongle/package. due to lack of HSPA+ signal..

  2. You got one part wrong .. instead of “What this means is that SLT ‘connectivity’ will now be available for everyone to curse at – everyone with a 4G device, that is.”, you need a 1-foot like antenna to connect to this:

    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Loon:
    Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet.

    Alternatively, operators have to bridge this to their local towers – which in a country as small as Sri Lanka means instead of point-to-point microwave between towers this bridges the tower to the Google data network.

    Of course the announcement yesterday had no operators participating and AFAIK they were surprised to hear of this. At least in New Zealand Google did this in conjunction with Vodafone .. but this is Sri Lanka and we don’t need such stuff to make magic work :-).

      1. Thanks. So like most things in this country, Internet usage yet another statistic for a politician’s charts.
        It’s probably a good thing the talks are not yet finalized. Hopefully they can get this running with the inclusion of other operators and after the election.

  3. Well I have seen a politician in fb posting (something similar to) “Sri Lanka has been chosen as the first country get the Google’s free internet blah blah blah”. I have also seen a “gossip” site publishing the same news. I wouldn’t say much for obvious political reasons but if you check political affiliated pages in fb, you would find where the (“free internet”) story came from.

  4. This article seems par-less factual and incomplete. “The kind of data capacity a person can consume these days, even doing something as simple as checking email, comes at a hefty price” Refer to [1]. Data prices in SL is even cheaper than in Half of the developed countries, including America. This should’ve been a well researched and a comprehensive article, instead, you have ruined a good topic, by bullshitting out of ego.
    [1] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_price_rankings?itemId=33

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