Dialling in: Increasing Internet penetration in Myanmar

Researchers are helping Myanmar transition to an inclusive, networked economy that gives citizens access to technology and services.

Buddhist nuns in Myanmar. A SIM card used to cost the same as a home in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. The price has fallen to just $1 but other obstacles to boosting Internet penetration remain.

As one of the least-developed countries in the world, Myanmar, unsurprisingly, has one of the lowest mobile phone and Internet penetration rates. Just 13% of its 53 million citizens had access to mobile phones in 2013, and only 1% had access to the Internet.

But after decades of state restrictions on outside communication, the country could be poised to make a leap from being one of the least connected societies in the world to becoming an inclusive information society.

The dramatic fall in the cost of SIM cards from US$7,000 in 1998 to just US$1 in 2015 has made mobile handsets affordable.

But major obstacles remain for Myanmar to become a truly inclusive, networked economy that gives its citizens access to technology and services.

To get a better understanding of the challenges, researchers at LIRNEasia, an Asia-Pacific think tank, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) embarked on evidence-based, empirical research to give policymakers and telecommunications operators the information they need to make decisions that will increase access.

The 34-month nationwide survey on mobile phone and Internet usage and communications needs began in March 2015 and includes 8,400 households, representing 97% of all households.

One of the researchers, Phet Sayo of IDRC, says the data gathered by the project will inform policies to help citizens take advantage of the social and economic opportunities resulting from improved information and communication technology infrastructure.

“Since 2010, Myanmar's transition to democracy has opened up new opportunities to use digital technologies to support social development and economic growth,” he says.

The first phase showed that mobile phone penetration has increased: almost four out of ten 15- to 65-year-olds now have a mobile subscription and 70% said they had used a mobile phone in the last year.

However, just 2% said they had used a computer or accessed the Internet through a browser in the last 12 months. Social networking and social media such as Viber, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter dominate Internet usage.

Sayo says the study will be useful for policymakers and the telecommunications sectors in the short term. “But even more so for the long term, in my opinion, as the work can provide the public and private sector a roadmap of the knowledge base required to make decisions to improve access,” he says.

Sayo says these benefits include improved digital literacy and better public services via digital applications as well as greater access to mobile phones and the Internet.

For further information please contact:
Phet Sayo | E-mail: [email protected]
International Development Research Centre

IDRC | Email: [email protected]
International Development Research Centre

Published: 04 Sep 2017

Contact details:

Head Office
Mailing address PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3H9

208 Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110003, India
Phone: (+91-11) 2461-9411

Latin America and the Caribbean:
Juncal 1385, Piso 14
11000 Montevideo, Uruguay
Phone: (+598) 2915-0492

Middle East and North Africa 
Zahran Gate Complex Suite 302,
25 Ismael Haqqi Abdo Street,
Amman, Jordan

Sub-Saharan Africa
PO Box 62084 00200, Nairobi, Kenya

Street address: Eaton Place, 3rd floor
United Nations Crescent, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya
Phone: (+254) 709-074000

+1 613 236 6163
News topics: 
Academic discipline: 

https://www.researchsea.com/asia_research_news_2017.php Read the story in Asia Research News 2017 magazine