Customers suffer as ISP's wind up
By Akhry Ameer
A happy and contented Internet and email subscriber
of Itmin, a reputed Internet Service Provider (ISP), for the past
eight years, suddenly found her livelihood falling apart last week.
First her email used regularly to correspond with international
clients as a small-time individual consultant becomes inaccessible
for nearly a week, reportedly with a hardware problem the ISP was
facing. A few days later she receives a letter from the company
saying that, with a view to providing a better service, it was handing
its subscriber base to another ISP and that she would have to change
her email address!
Internet Services Ltd is the second ISP in recent months after Panlanka
to close its customer base leaving customers helpless, with just
a curt explanatory letter from the company but no proper reason
for the sudden decision.
Itmin and Panlanka are believed to have wound up their retail Internet
services businesses owning to thin margins according to ICT industry
experts. Eureka Online which recently re-launched itself as Eureka
Technology Partners (Pvt) Ltd (ETP) with a wider range of services
has come to the rescue of customers, though with some interruptions
to their services until connections were being restored through
the new network.
when contacted acknowledged taking over Itmin customers last week.
Sanjay Mendis, Head of Marketing of ETP said Itmin had faced problems
with its service provider and had lost its connectivity and was
thus unable to continue services to its customers. ETP has taken
over the services of all customers calling in for transfer of their
connections subsequent to Itmin's letter.
is now in the process of restoring connections to Itmin's customers
and will be officially contacting Itmin customers shortly. Mr. Mendis
added that with the takeover all Itmin customers who signed up through
ETP will receive the same high-level of service as its existing
ETP customers. Further, Itmin users will be given the opportunity
of continuing to use their existing email addresses.
Sunday Times ICT learns that Itmin had utilized the services of
Lanka Internet to manage the Internet and email services of its
subscriber base though under the Itmin.com and Itmin.net email domain
names. However, Lanka Internet had initially held back the Itmin.com
domain name causing Itmin officials to request customers to change
their email addresses to the Itmin.net domain name on the pretext
of providing a better spam-free service. Mr. Mendis when asked said
"the other service provider" had initially held back the
domain but now the issue has been sorted and all Itmin customers
would be able to use their old email addresses under the ETP. A
financial agreement is also reported to have taken place between
Itmin and ETP.
had been listed under the names of Itmin Ltd. and Itmin Internet
Services Ltd. with offices in the World Trade Centre and at Independence
Square. In recent months the entire operation moved to the Independence
Square offices. All the contact numbers have been discontinued while
Itmin officials were not contactable for comment.
at Lanka Internet said Itmin had been facing financial problems
even before they signed up with Lanka Internet about three months
back. Thereafter they had been defaulting on payments settling only
partial dues. As a result the company was forced to stop the connectivity.
Lanka Internet officials who met The Sunday Times at the former's
office, were undecided on how to respond to questions on how for
example an ISP was providing services using the same email addresses
of another provider (Lanka Internet), etc.
customers say they have been cheated owing to poor communication
and note that the company was evading responsibility and failed
to reveal the true picture to its clients.
prepares to disburse funds
Plagued by politics, questioned by some, accused
by another or supported by others, the driver of eSri Lanka –
the Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) - has weathered
the storm to complete what it terms a “remarkable” first
year of operation last month. Its Managing Director and Chief Executive
Officer Manju Haththotuwa described the performance thus far reflecting
on what has been achieved in a difficult first year of operation.
progress is remarkable considering the challenges and limited resources
we had, we actually went and did many pilot projects, ran advocacy
programmes to engage many stakeholders in government, private sector
& civil society, designed and prepared a complex project in
record time which was successfully funded by a demanding donor like
the World Bank, etc,” he said. Listing a range of activities
that have taken place in each of the focal areas of capacity building,
creating an enabling environment, delivering citizen services, developing
ICT human resources and using ICT as a lever for economic development,
he added the hype and expectations had made it an enigma to society.
"All this from an organisation which had its first staff member
only last July. We not only had to ‘teach people to drive
the car’ but also make the car and build the road!”
said the company’s head implying that the expectations and
the time frame laid for it have been partly unrealistic.
completed the first year and securing a US$53 million funding which
is awaiting the formal nod of the Board of the International Development
Agency, the funding arm of the World Bank, the ICTA is preparing
to expeditiously disburse the funds for the various identified projects
no sooner it is released early next year. The World Bank credit,
translating effectively to an 83% grant and 17% repayable funds,
will be used on upscaling a number of identified projects; establishment
of connectivity infrastructure, including the setting up of 100
Vishwa Gnana Kendrayas (VGK) in various parts of the island. The
VGKs are designed to provide access and opportunities to rural communities
and the rural entrepreneur through establishing multi-service community
information centres. Among the laudable objectives, this project
intends to reduce the digital divide between urban and rural folk;
provide information and knowledge for better quality education (e~Learning),
better health information, vocational support (Agriculture, fishing
etc.) leading to jobs and improved standard of living.
funding in various forms for different ICT related initiatives is
also being negotiated with SIDA, CIDA, JBIC and GTZ, the development
agencies of Sweden, Canada, Japan and Germany. These countries are
extremely interested in assisting various aspects of the ICT roadmap,
according to Haththotuwa. He added that raising funding from multiple
sources and building strategic partnerships too had consumed a significant
part of the limited resources of the Agency in its first year.
on the ICT Agency itself, the agency head also raised caution in
whether the unit with a small professional staff cadre of 17 and
10 support staff was being pressured to work beyond its scope thereby
losing focus on the major projects already funded. The first year
of operation had also involved the challenges of forming itself
with the best talent from private, public and civil sectors with
multi-tasking capability, managing different work cultures and building
support functions, such as, project management, strategic communication
and change management, monitoring and evaluation of development
objectives, building strategic partnerships and institutional capacity
ICT Agency was originally established as a development and project
management organization but has had its scope extended to being
the promoter of ICT in development, ICT standard bearer for Government
Systems, policy resource in government, programme and project preparation,
sourcing funding, procurement and managing implementation, monitoring
and evaluation of projects, capturing and disseminating knowledge
and lessons learnt. Further, it has also to act as a hub for various
ICT initiatives implemented by the government sector to avoid duplication
of activities, which it has done successfully. The ICTA continues
to adopt a model of outsourced implementation involving public and
private sector for its development activities and thereby hopes
to develop Sri Lankan capacity and capabilities through implementation
of the project.
added that the roadmap, when explained, had been well received by
all quarters including its then line ministry, the Ministry of Science
and Technology headed now by Minister, Professor Tissa Vitharana
who recently endorsed the activities of the agency. He also complemented
the Agency for such initiatives as Microsoft and other IT majors
coming to Sri Lanka recently and the opening of HSBC’s call
centre that would eventually provide employment for 2500 people.
The ICT Agency has also led in efforts to attract one of the largest
Indian Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operators, a UK insurance
company, in addition to negotiating with a US publishing house under
its IT Enabled Services (ITES) programme all of which have brought
both jobs and strategic investment into Sri Lanka.
on the pilot projects that had been awarded last year, Haththotuwa
said that 20 pilot projects had been commissioned using savings
it had made from the modest project preparation fund, normally intended
for setting up the project organisation and the project preparation.
He stressed that, given the nature of the projects, pilots were
essential to ascertain viability, scalability and replicability,
before committing to the main projects in the coming months. “Many
thought eSri Lanka will be a quick fix. The correlation between
ICT and development is still a fuzzy and unproven one. We are in
many ways a first in the world and a flagship project for even the
World Bank” he added. The pilot projects had also taught lessons
and highlighted areas of improvement, as in the case of the Govi
Gnana System which was intended to empower the farmer by providing
him with information about best selling prices thus making him the
chief beneficiary of the entire system. However, the middleman benefited
more from the GGS but we will reshape the project as we move it
to the next stage."
of the disbursements of funding in the first phase would involve
government projects. Already 650 Chief Innovation Officers have
been identified and are being trained through various workshops
to create a bottom-up approach of ICT needs identification and preparation
of things to come.
looking forward to the year ahead, Haththotuwa said that a major
task of the agency in its second year would be to expand the awareness
of e-Sri Lanka and its benefits to the wider public and build institutional
capacity and leadership to handle the projects, prepare some projects
for tender and coordinate the implementation.
three years, as the projects go live, we hope we will have some
critical services in the government conveniently available to the
public from most parts of Sri Lanka and the beginnings of an electronically
enabled and empowered Sri Lankan society". He added, “clearly
these benefits will take decades to cataclysmically change rural
Sri Lanka as we have seen in countries like Singapore and Korea
who took 20 plus years of consistent policies, investment and committed
Launches University of London External Porgramme
Institute of Technology (IIT) launched the external programme of
the University of London, UK (UOL) recently. The programme offers
undergraduate Honours Degrees in Information Systems, Accounting
and Finance, Banking and Finance, Economics and Management and Diploma
courses for graduates in Information Systems and Management.
UOL with a total student population of 115,000 plus an additional
32,000 on the External Programme is one of the largest and oldest
universities in UK. The External Programme manages the majority
of the University of London's distance learning courses. It was
established in 1858 to make its degrees accessible to students who
could not physically attend the University. The external programme
today is followed by students in over 180 countries for more than
100 University of London qualifications.
(Pvt) Limited formed the IIT in 1990 and has successfully carried
out its 15th intake of students. Its alumni of over 700 are holding
key positions in Information Technology and the Business Industry
locally and overseas. Established in 1983, IPL is a leading systems
integrator and a software solutions provider in Sri Lanka with business
units in Telecom, Insurance, Banking and Finance, Hotel, Government
Core Businesses and Retail Industries.
Talking Computers - What Next?
By Priyanthi Wickramasuriya
Do you know that nowadays you can speak to your PC, and more importantly,
they in turn can talk back to you? Today's personal computers come
equipped with built in speech-ware and speech recognition software
- in particular, Windows/Office XP and Windows Me and not to mention,
those still to come.
far as Office XP is concerned, you have to install the software
from your CD-ROM properly. Now in Sri Lanka, when people buy new
computers, only very rarely is the software billed separately. And
so many vendors seem to think that the potential user(s) would never
need it. So, they try to save on disk space (which now comes in
terms of Giga Bytes), and omit the speech part conveniently.
campus PC's XP Office-ware has got three voices to choose from:
L. Michael, (Ms) L. Michelle and Microsoft Sam. Being a girl, I
prefer to be crooned to by a boy, and that limits my choice to just
two. Microsoft Sam has the clearer voice, but is a trifle loud for
the hushed environment where I work. So I content myself with Mr.
Michael. All I have to do is to go to Word, select the text, and
choose Speech from the Tools menu.
starts however, when I click on the speech-tools icon set. It wants
to train the computer to recognize my voice, and asks me to adjust
my microphone, and get-set-ready to go! But there's no separate
microphone attached to my PC. Only the built-in tiny amplifier,
that's just enough for me to listen to cosily. My guess is that
once again, the vendors have played us out - oops, slightly amiss
with their part of the contract by 'forgetting' to hand over this
tiny bit of gadgetry.
going by what I can glean from the run-up to the voice training,
before it aborts owing to the lack of a microphone, a given PC can
have several voice profiles. So, if you are sharing your Home PC
with your ever-loving Hubby, or alternatively with your Mum or Dad
and that pest of kid brother of yours, you need not argue among
yourself as to who is entitled to give directions to your computer.
It's shareware all the way!
course, giving it directions doesn't mean that you can instruct
your computer to write complex program commands, or even to produce
a report for your Sales Manager from the Customer Database. At the
moment what you can do is to dictate little notes like this to your
word processor (meaning Word and perhaps word-pad), and issue short
commands like "Explorer, Open File, 'Talking Computers'".
importantly, while a talking computer can ease computer communication
to an ordinary sighted person with full use of fingers in either
hand, it can open vistas unimaginable to a disabled person - particularly
paraplegics, people who had lost the use of their hands and blind
have been moved to write this as I had seen an article in The Sunday
Times recently about the plight of some blind students at Colombo
University, who were loaned some PCs for their exclusive use in
a room reserved for them. They have complained that only one PC
has voice recognition software on it. Now this, I find astounding.
It is well known that a blind student can't directly stare at a
computer screen. Since the Colombo Campus is conducting its lectures
in English, if only those poor blind students are properly equipped
and enlightened and enabled, they can get their computers to at
the least read aloud their notes for them.
for myself, I wait for the day that some enterprising soul provides
means to hear Sinhala texts read aloud in a natural Sinhala accent
on my PC! And maybe-maybe to dictate to it official letters in our
official tongue, AND oh yes! To issue voice-commands in Spoken Sinhala!