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Reports 26 January 2016

The Year that Was: A report on the initiatives and activities of the Asia-Pacific Bureau for 2015

Introduction

This report was put together to outline some of the key initiatives undertaken by the Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific (APAC) Regional Bureau in 2015. While it is not meant to be an exhaustive record, we do hope that it provides you with a good overview of our activities in the region.

In addition to the Bureau’s core programmes, our Chapters are also very active in their local communities and, as volunteer-led entities, do amazing work in helping to support and carry out the Internet Society’s mission at the local level. We invite you to find out more about our Chapters at http://www.internetsociety.org/who-we-are/chapters

Regional Highlights

Asia-Pacific greeted 2015 with an even more fervent push to maximise the opportunities the Internet provides.

The region’s economic giants ramped up their digital adoption schemes, with China announcing its Internet Plus strategy. This aims to invest in and leverage Internet technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and mobile, to transform traditional industries. The East Asian country, whose top three richest individuals all come from the Internet sector, is also seeing its Internet firms expand to new markets in the region, and new fields like motion picture production and the media.

India, meanwhile, is fast becoming a focal point for global Internet giants, which have made major investments in the country this year—from Google’s new campus in Hyderabad to Facebook’s announcement that it has thus far provided $20 million in benefits to Indian developers as part of its FbStart programme. Indonesia also embarked on an infrastructure modernisation plan that will see it invest billions of dollars on its telecom and communications infrastructure, and Pakistan has stated that it will relax its policies on cross-border communications links, which could see it become a regional hub in the region.

Countries across the region are stepping up support for startups and local Internet firms: governments in Taiwan ROC and China, and domestic conglomerates in India and Indonesia have all set up multi million dollar venture funds for emerging tech businesses. Internet finance is on the rise in East Asia, with Japan, China and South Korea opening their first Internet banks, some aimed at providing more capital access to SMEs. There is also increasing activity around the Internet of Things, with many major manufacturers from carmakers to whitegoods manufacturers moving towards embedding connectivity into the machines, appliances and devices they make.

Amidst the sustained zeal to develop digital economies are new regulations that could present roadblocks to future innovation and growth. The sharing economy is showing its impact on traditional business models and the need for policymakers to be proactive and dynamic in what is a fast-changing environment. Ride-hailing apps, in particular, are being opposed by domestic taxi industries, and governments are responding through actions such as impounding vehicles used by the providers, fining drivers and filing tax violation charges against companies such as Uber and Didi. China has required them to set up servers on the mainland, and even the Philippines, which became the first country to legally allow Internet-based transport services, has halted the services’ local expansion. Global Internet firms more broadly are facing more scrutiny, with India and South Korea starting anti-trust inquiries on the likes of Apple and Google, and Australia ruling that the latter is liable for the pages that it links. In Australia, the tax department has also been looking into tax returns filed by multinationals (with several technology companies on their radar) and their transfer pricing and other schemes used to pay reduced local tax.

With the rise of online trading comes data management and protection schemes, coupled with new ordinances against online scams and fraud. Both China, which recently surpassed the US as the world’s largest e-commerce market, and Japan are rolling out e-IDs alongside tighter privacy laws while the Philippines works on an updated Consumer Act. Several countries are also looking into stronger anonymisation techniques as they move towards machine-to-machine connectivity and treatment of the data that is generated. Online security and trust related issues continue to be highlighted across various sectors, and there remains a pressing need to for collaboration and cooperation at all levels.

Censorship and Internet freedom

China, which earlier in the year banned Virtual Private Networks and required citizens to use their real names in their online accounts, also introduced a new cyber security law, which legalizes existing surveillance and content blocking mechanisms and led to the set up of an ‘Internet police force’ to keep tabs on China’s large websites and instant messaging platforms to monitor online behaviour. Similar and/or related legislation was also recently enacted in Bangladesh and Vietnam, and is under consideration in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Pakistan amongst others. Nauru implemented a ban on Facebook with other Pacific Island countries indicating they were also considering content filtering type legislation.

Arrests, convictions, and takedowns of content deemed to offend the state, government officials, or sow social discord persisted in a number of countries. Website blocking targeted media platforms like WordPress and Vimeo, and YouTube remains banned in Pakistan. Internet blackouts were likewise carried out in several states across India throughout the year in response to local issues. The effects of Internet censorship are becoming more visible, with new studies suggesting that restrictions and vague legislation affect business confidence, especially foreign investment and can limit innovation, creativity and growth.

But 2015 also yielded a number of big triumphs for Internet freedom, thanks in no small part to end users making their voices heard online and offline. In India, after a long battle that pitted swaths of civil society and industry against the current administration, the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Section 66A of the IT Act, which had sought to punish anyone posting ‘annoying’ or ‘offensive’ content online – where these words were very vague in description. Similar protests forced the amendment of a national encryption policy that would order citizens to keep and make available a plaintext copy of all online communications to security agencies, and the network neutrality debate reached fever pitch in India.

Public outcry in Thailand, together with cyber attacks directed at state websites, also prompted the military government to retract its proposal to create a single gateway for all Internet traffic in and out of the Kingdom. We also saw greater use of the Internet and Social Media by governments and politicians in the region, including as a campaigning and election tool.

Narrowing the digital divide

The year also saw more assertive measures, by both governments and the private sector, to improve Internet penetration in Asia-Pacific. Both India and the Philippines are starting to make free Wi-Fi available in public spaces, and more advanced economies like Singapore are making headway in increasing Internet uptake among their remaining offline communities, particularly the elderly.

As Google prepares to roll out Project Loon in Indonesia, regulators in Thailand and Brunei are taking steps to reduce broadband subscription rates and encourage adoption. Investment in undersea optical cable systems also continue with new cable systems coming online during the year, and announcements for new systems to be deployed in the future. The rapid growth in data requires further capacity, and as more of these cable systems come online – and there is competition between transit providers – access costs also reduce. This passes on to the end user as reduced subscription rates.

Across the region, young innovators are developing hardware and software to spread Internet use among marginalised sectors like farming communities and persons with disabilities, and NGOs continue working towards helping provide access and capacity building. As the availability of the Internet becomes mainstream and reaches maturity levels in various markets, it increasingly becomes an important tool for social action and change – and becomes a lifeline in many instances. This was seen following the devastating earthquake in Nepal where the Internet became a primary means of communication. The Internet remains critical as a tool to advocate for the rights of women and marginalised and minority communities, and examples of this was seen around the region through the year including in the Philippines, India, Nepal and the Pacific Islands.

But the drive to expand Internet access has also caused contention in emerging markets like India, where zero-rated packages, coupled with several attempts by operators to charge extra for over-the-top voice and messaging apps, has lit up a year-long debate on Net neutrality. A consultation paper released by the Regulator received more than a million comments in favor of content non-discrimination, while carriers argued for OTT licensing. The original paper was withdrawn but the debate continues unabated.

Internal Events

Report launch: Unleashing the Potential of the Internet for ASEAN Economies [23 March, Manila, Philippines]

Held at the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel, the Manila launch of the APAC Bureau’s new study was a well-attended event, with more than invited 60 participants from various sectors, including senior officials from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Department of Trade and Industry, the Asian Development Bank, Philippine ICT and Telecom firms, and print and online media. The launch, which was co-organised by the APAC Bureau and research firm TRPC, kicked off with opening remarks by DOST Undersecretary Louis Casambre, and a dialogue between APAC Bureau Regional Director Rajnesh Singh and TRPC Director Peter Lovelock on the study’s key findings. Both agreed on the importance of rethinking traditional telecom models and considering new opportunities for growth. This extends to concepts like infrastructure sharing, both in the Philippine and the ASEAN context, which may be frowned upon by incumbents but is integral to maximising the value of the digital economy.

This was followed by a panel that looked at the positive impact of ICT development, particularly mobile penetration and data connectivity, on a country’s global competitiveness. The ADB, which along with the ITU has launched ICTD initiatives in APAC, recommends enabling policies both on the supply and the demand side. This means fostering liberalisation of the telecoms market and investing in infrastructure, but also enhancing ICT skills development, broadband and end-user device affordability, and online content creation. To end the three-hour afternoon session, major carriers in the Philippines, PLDT and Globe Telecom, presented their initiatives to expand access in the country. The launch concluded with a networking cocktail.

Asia Internet Symposium [07 May, Seoul, Republic of Korea]

Hosted by the ISOC Republic of Korea Chapter, the Asia Internet Symposium in Seoul discussed the policy and technology perspectives of the Internet of Things (IoT). Representatives from International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, Industry, Academia, and the Internet Society shared views on the opportunities offered by IoT, and how to respond to related challenges of interoperability, user privacy, security, and further support for future innovation.

The discussions included IoT policy and the impact on society, and in particular the positive benefits it can bring. Speakers and panellists spoke of the dire need to build awareness among Internet users, specifically those in rural areas, many of whom may not have a very good grasp of privacy, security and the opportunities offered by the Internet.

ISOC-TRPC Forum on Rethinking the Digital Economy [21 May, Jakarta, Indonesia]

This event was part of a series of regional events across the ASEAN region to showcase the ISOC study, “Unleashing the Potential of the Internet for ASEAN Economies.” This forum was organised in conjunction with TRPC’s annual forum, primarily focusing on the overall key findings for Indonesia and its development within the ASEAN context.

The roundtable focused on the progress Indonesia and ASEAN have made in advancing a vibrant and digitally integrated society and economy and discuss potential pathways for the region to usher in the digital economy. Over 40 invited participants drawn from policy makers, local and international industry leaders, research groups, the media, the ISOC Jakarta Chapter and the ASEAN Secretariat attended the event. Representatives from ICANN also presented their BCG Study that looks at infrastructure and information development pillars.

INET Colombo [08-09 June, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

Heralded as one the biggest ICT events in Sri Lanka, the Internet Society’s INET Colombo conference marked the 20th anniversary of the Internet in Sri Lanka. The conference opening ceremony recognised 25 leaders who contributed to the early development of the Internet in Sri Lanka, inviting stories and experiences from those who helped build the early Internet with many fond memories being shared.

The event attracted over 1000 participants. Of these, some 200 were on-site and the other 800 were spread across 7 remote hubs around Sri Lanka. The power of the Internet was used to its fullest potential to bring the event live to participants in Jaffna, Peradeniya, Oluvil, Kelaniya, Colombo (second location), Sri Jayawardenapura, and Moratuwa.

INET Colombo had several foreign speakers and a dozen local Internet experts and pioneers, who addressed four main areas: Internet Development; History, Evolution and Growth of Internet and IT; Opportunities and Issues in Internet Governance; and Promising a Better Future, Building the Environment.

Asia-Pacific Bureau @ Intercommunity 2015 [08 July Auckland, Manila, Bangalore and Hong Kong]

InterCommunity 2015, Internet Society’s first virtual meeting that brought together our global community, was designed to celebrate the Internet’s ability to rise beyond boundaries and bring people together. With attendees from more than 141 countries, and 15 Regional Nodes, it truly was a global meeting of the Internet Society, on the Internet, for the Internet.

The Asia-Pacific Bureau led four nodes during InterCommunity 2015, each representative of a sub-region: The main global hub Auckland (Oceania) and interactive nodes in Bangalore (South Asia), Hong Kong (East Asia) and Manila (Southeast Asia). In addition to these, there were multiple viewing nodes set up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. These interactive nodes held roundtable discussions on a specific topic of local relevance prior to the crossover to the main hub in Auckland. More information on InterCommunity 2015 is available here.

Asia Internet Symposium [03 August, Bangkok, Thailand]

Asia Internet Symposium Bangkok, focused on Over-The-Top (OTT) Services and it’s current and future implications on the ICT and telecommunications industry. The forum was a result of collaboration with the local industry and the telecom regulator with ISOC to explore possible policy choices to promote a richer local content industry using the OTT platform under the country’s Digital Economy vision.

The discussion revolved around the right business model for OTT and monetisation of its services. It was stated that the digital content industry in Thailand has strong potential to grow considerably. However, some of the challenges raised included the lack of policies to promote local talent and the digital content industry through OTT, as well as the heavily regulated telecom environment. There was a general understanding that the OTT market in the country is still in its infancy stage and many believed that it would be premature to regulate it.

In order to develop and strengthen the OTT market, policies will be required that will support both the content side as well as the platform itself to ensure fair and open competition which leverages on evolving ICT technology, local creativity and the global reach of the Internet.

Asia Internet Symposium [07 September, Jakarta, Indonesia]

“The responsibility to ensure a secure and trusted cyber space is not to be left to governments only, it is an obligation to be filled by all stakeholders.” This was the opening statement of Mr Rudiantara, Minister of ICT, Republic of Indonesia at the Asia Internet Symposium Jakarta. The Indonesian government is currently deliberating the creation of a national cyber security agency, which is expected to be operational next year, and a national cyber security policy to bolster its cyber defence mechanisms.

Cybercrimes have affected Indonesia so much that in a statement, its defence minister warned that Indonesia was on the brink of a cyber-war. Over the course of three years, there have been a staggering 36.6 million attacks on Internet networks. In monetary terms, the loss has been greater than Rp33.29 billion, a figure that is much higher than conventional bank robberies. For much of 2013 and 2014, Indonesia has consistently ranked as one of the world’s top three sources of cyber-attacks. The symposium was well attended with over 180 participants on-site and over 50 around the world watching it live. This emphasises the importance of cybersecurity discussions and the interest from the community.

Speakers highlighted the importance of cross-country collaboration, and shared their views on the social impact of cyber-attacks on users, incident reporting and rectification mechanisms, the need for technical capacity building and user awareness, and the need for strong collaboration amongst all stakeholders.

Asia Internet Symposium [10 October, Dhaka, Bangladesh]

The Bangladesh government estimates that 80% of the total Internet population of Bangladesh use Facebook, and almost 60% are 13 to 22 years old. The Asia Internet Symposium Dhaka invited representatives from the government, businesses, civil society, academia and social media activists to deliberate on issues related to responsible use of social media in Bangladesh.

Abuse over social media is on the rise in Bangladesh. A recent number of incidents show fake account holders trolling other Internet users, uploading objectionable pictures and videos, and even posting hate messages. The Bangladesh Computer Security Incident Response Team (BD-CSIRT) is said to have received around 2,000 such complaints over the last 18 months.

Event speakers stressed the need to educate end-users on healthier and more constructive use of social media. This would help address the growing problem of fake Social Media IDs used to abuse and demean a person’s character online, and the role of public institutions in introducing policies promoting the effective and responsible use of social media, There was also the call for greater consciousness among bloggers on how their postings might affect their readers. Some participants also noted that social media tools are so pervasive today that many individuals don’t even think before publishing or posting, with others noting that the moral and ethical use of social media is a collective responsibility.

Press Briefing: “Unleashing the Potential of the Internet in Central Asia and Beyond: Pakistan in Focus” [17 November, Islamabad, Pakistan]

On the sidelines of the INET Islamabad conference, Internet Society (ISOC) Asia-Pacific Bureau also organised a media briefing on its regional study carried out in collaboration with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and UN ESCAP. The study covers ten countries from Central Asia, the Caucuses and South Asia (including Pakistan), focusing on Internet infrastructure and related issues. The briefing highlighted some of the key findings from the study and opportunities, along with some major challenges that are faced by the region and Pakistan specifically. The briefing was standing room only with over 40 media personnel present including all major television channels. The briefing and study findings were widely covered in print, electronic and online media in Pakistan, including primetime TV.

The study is the third in a series of studies by ISOC that looks at sub-regional Internet ecosystems and their level of progress towards transitioning to a digital economy – where the Internet is the underlying driver of all sectors across an economy.

INET Islamabad [16-18 November, Islamabad, Pakistan]

Internet Society Asia-Pacific Bureau’s first-ever Regional INET conference in Pakistan, from Nov 16-18 in Islamabad, proved to be a huge success, both in terms of substance and lively participation. INET Islamabad brought into picture concrete opinions and action items to help in Pakistan’s journey towards a Digital Economy; and in building its ICT agenda based on sustainable development.

The event was hosted by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and backed by the telecommunication industry of Pakistan. It featured both international and national subject matter experts from various sectors with broad experience, globally and nationally, in ICT, policymaking and development. The two-day conference was attended by over 400 participants and had an online audience of some 600 people from around the world. There were also close to 2,000 tweets using #INETISB and social media reports tell us this had a reach of some 270,000. International speakers from UN ESCAP, ITU, APT, LIRNEasia, ISACA, Red Hat and other premier organisations helped further the dialogue with their thoughts on:

  • Infrastructure and Connectivity for Sustainable Development
  • e-Gov Architecture, Standards and Implementation
  • Building Trust in Cyberspace
  • Growth of ICT Industry
  • Digital Financial Inclusion
  • Shaping the Move towards a Digital Economy for Pakistan

The first day of the event featured the opening reception with invited guests from the Pakistan ICT industry, and Prof. Gihan Dias from the ISOC Board of Trustees delivering the opening keynote.

INET Islamabad achieved significant exposure for the Internet Society in Pakistan – there were over 100 media spots including live TV, print and online. It also laid the foundation for discussions on how the digital economy can benefit Pakistan, and was acknowledged as the largest and most important event of its kind to be held in Pakistan. Discussions are already underway for follow-up action by various stakeholders in the country and ISOC’s Asia-Pacific Bureau remains committed to assist in this process.

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