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INGO Forum is aimed at influencing and increasing the impact and consistency of relief, aid and peace-building in Myanmar. This is done by identifying ways to build and reinforce policies and good practices through co-ordinated exchange of information, facilitation of dialog and positive involvement with domestic and foreign decision-makers engaged in human rights and aid policies, thereby supporting a favourable context for INGOs to better carry out their tasks.

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Slower connections IT industry Myanmar test

Burma has been run by gendarmes for centuries, and leaves behind not only a backlog of connections, but also a sophisticated network of interests and a one-of-a-kind eco-system of technology innovation. Recent meetings of technicians at the Myanmar Info-Tech Centre in Yangon illustrate the promises, changes and issues that Myanmar represents as the next limit for investment.

This was a so-called bar camp - an unscheduled conferencing and chats festival whose size was dreamt of by California technicians who are fed up with the high-class, self-contained meetings that Silicon Valley regularly hosts. Myanmar has taken Asia by leap, but nowhere more than Myanmar. Emily Jacobi, foundress of the first bar camp, travelled to Yangon in October 2009 to arouse interest.

Autonomous blogs and the business-oriented Myanmar Computer Professionals association came up with the notion, but it was less easy to overcome cross-grouping. "Convincing my co-founders of BarCamp Yangon that it was a good plan to park our operations under the roof of this recognized computer organization was more difficult," said Thaung Su Nyein, General Manager of the IT and Medias Group Inforithm-Maze.

At the beginning of 2010, the first Yangon bar camp had 3,000 visitors - a bar camp all-time high. Although the attractiveness of the event reflects the great interest in technical subjects, it also shows how disadvantaged the locals are who can inform themselves and network. Singapore IT advisor Thar Htet, who gave several presentations at the first bar camp, said it was clear that most participants did not even comprehend relatively simple issues.

Even though cyber cafés have multiplied since 2003 and produce a breed of blogs and autodidactic developers, there are limitations to what they can do on low-speed and without international education and skills. For example, when Pyae Phyo Maung visited the University of Computer Studies in Yangon, he had to have his own computer with him.

Only two of his tenth grade were left in Myanmar. Barbarcamp shows the challenge faced by both IT actors and prospective investors: how to manage close contact with the country's IT and communication networks through a group of governments and economic actors. Up until recently, this self-preservation represented a severe restriction on communication accessibility, irrespective of whether it was a phone or broadband line.

After the Saffron Revolution in 2007, this intensified when campaigners sent out pictures, video and protest coverage of the protest against the regime via mobile phone and the web. After all, this is a state where the US State Department is warning that it is against the law to have a modems and where all network-capable computer must be licensed to the Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT).

According to a 2000 poll by Australian advisor Paul Budde, the MPT amended its conditions of use to point out that on-line contents would be subjected to the same stringent filtration as off-line mediums and that the user must obtain approval before building websites.

The flourishing businesses are usually well networked or in the possession of the state. Burma's first GSM system was set up by a business with connections to the deceased Burma general Ne Win's household. Business owner of business man Tay Za producing and selling SIM-card, according to a July 2009 U.S. message cables licked to WikiLeaks.

Also, the connection to the web is severely restricted. There are only two privately held ISPs, one of which, Red Link Communications, is in the joint ownership of two Thura Shwe Mann boys, formerly the number three in the reigning Army Board and now spokesman for the country's MP. Enforcing these interests is essential for domestic companies - and, unless the rules are changed, for any international investors.

BarCamp Yangon folded, for example, under an offical organisation, made sure that it had the permissions to go ahead, as well as sponsoring from the major actors in the area' IT world. Non-German firms must either follow the same policy or await changes in regulation. However, there are indications that the goverment is reacting to the population's call for better links.

The number of Yangon businesses that have been dealing with blackouts and interrupted electrical current for years has increased to 24 hours. Last months, says Thaung Su Nyein of Inforithm-Maze, a Korean firm began to offer a relatively quick wi-max mobile link for $30 a months. Wherever once web mail, Facebook and Skype were jammed, now exiled sites are also available.

Last months, when Aung Zaw, creator and publisher of Irrawaddy on-line mag, for the first visit to Myanmar in 24 years, he even found the immigrant officials at the airfield talking to him through his website. Once he was free, he used his newly gained glory to hire his trusted services to restrict bandwith to his small Yangon cyber café.

" Now he is planning to open a WiMAX network in his neighbourhood that will provide WiMAX connectivity to neighboring homes. At the beginning of the year, when a small business suggested to sell low-cost IM card, it was turned down by MPT because more infrastructures were needed. According the Irrawaddy website, 11 group were briefly arrested in Yangon this time period aft promoting bargain-priced cell electronic equipment.

This seems far from the true needs of most of Burma's corporations. Yatanarpon Cyber City, a 10,000 hectare urban area cut out of the jungles in 2006 and conceived as the country's IT Hub, has city-wide DSL links, shelters for 50,000 inhabitants and a college, but has so far attracted only a few enterprises - and none of the promises of overseas invest.

The main enterprises present in Myanmar are mainly from China - Huawei and ZTE are selling both infrastructural devices and mobile phones, according to Einstein of Frost & Sullivan. There are only a few West German firms present. Alcatel-Lucent's China entity Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, for example, is setting up the Myanmar branch of a GSM net funded by China.

There are many hopes that the advent of foreign firms would create employment for the millions of jobless and underqualified workers in Burma. At first, most people run their own small business or IT consulting, design web sites or repair workstations. However, even a number of IT firms are conflicting about the possible inflow of investments from the West. That can be critical for organizations that move fast by building relationships on the ground.

However, they can also suffocate the delicate ecosystems. "There is a genuine concern among our locals that we will not be able to rival multinational corporations when they come in," says Thaung Su Nyein of Inforithm-Maze.

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