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Published on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 16:03
Information technology experts are amplifying their calls for better Internet access in the country and some are urging users to post their views on the new telecom bill on Facebook because the government is paying close attention to what people are saying on the social media site.
The increased lobbying follows Barcamp Yangon, the country’s largest gathering of IT experts, at the weekend.
"The most important feature of Internet freedom is accessibility,” said Htaike Htaike Aung, a program manager at Myanmar ICT for Development Organization, or MIDO. “If many people can use the Internet at a faster speed, that's Internet freedom," she said.
President Thein Sein said he supported “freedom of Internet access” in his speech at the United Nations in New York last September but freedom is more than just openness, she said. Plenty of websites have been launched but access remains very limited, she explained.
"The Internet is not widely used in schools. Villages and regions do not have any access to the Internet."
The Internet has been accessible since 2000, but access was controlled by the previous government through software-based censorship, infrastructure, technical constraints, and draconian laws and regulations that included hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences.
Htaike Htaike Aung warned that the new telecom bill could limit freedom of information and freedom of expression. Her view was echoed by other MIDO members.
Zaw Zaw Myo Lwin called on citizens to study the bill and then post comments on Facebook before it became law. Authorities are paying close attention to posts made on Facebook so it could provide a forum for getting their attention, Zaw Zaw Myo Lwin said.
The bill was made public last November. Critics have said it contains articles that could limit freedom of expression. Htaike Htaike Aung pointed to a clause in Article 60 of Chapter 19 as an example of state intrusiveness. The clause allows prison sentences of seven to 15 years for “anyone doing any act detrimental to the security of the State or prevalence of law and order or community peace and tranquility or national solidarity or national economy or national culture".
She said government could also access individuals’ private information without obtaining their permission.
MIDO executive director Nay Phone Latt said the new telecom legislation did not include enough input from people.
He was among the group of IT experts and entrepreneurs who held a conference last month to propose amendments to the bill.
Although several MPs attended the conference they did not inform its organisers whether the amendments would be made, he said.
Government data on Internet penetration rates is out of date. The last figures from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology show that less than 1 percent of the country’s population used the Internet, with the vast majority of users hailing from the two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay. These figures were released in July 2010.