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Asia Today: Remote-learning begins in virus-hit Philippines

Inside Telecom Staff

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Remote-learning

Grade and high school students in the Philippines began classes at home Monday after the coronavirus pandemic forced remote-learning onto an educational system already struggling to fund schools.

The shift to distance-learning has been a logistical nightmare for the poverty-stricken Southeast Asian country that has long lacked enough classrooms, teachers and educational equipment. Nearly 25 million students enrolled this year in mostly 47,000 public schools nationwide that would have to be replicated in homes and enlist the help of parents and guardians as co-teachers.

A majority of families, especially from poor and rural communities, opted to use government-provided digital or printed learning materials or “modules,” which students would read at home with the guidance of their elders before carrying out specified activities. Most lacked computers and reliable internet connections. Teachers could answer questions by telephone.

The rest of the families preferred for their children to get lessons online or through regional radio and TV educational broadcasts.

“The system may not be perfect and there may be issues as we shift to flexible learning … but we are confident that the Department of Education would address these challenges,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said school classes should resume only when a COVID-19 vaccine has been made available, fearing classrooms could become infection hotspots.

The Philippines has reported more than 322,400 infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, with more than 5,700 deaths.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Sri Lankan authorities closed a university and imposed restrictions on buses and trains on Monday, a day after a COVID-19 patient was reported from the community for the first time in two months. A curfew was imposed Sunday in the Colombo suburbs where the patient lived, and about 15 hospital staff and 40 co-workers have been quarantined. The state-run University of Kelaniya in the area was also closed down for a week starting from Monday. Buses and trains must transport passengers according to the number of seats, and commuters must wear masks. Schools countrywide have been closed down. For more than two months, health officials have been saying that they have prevented the community spread of the virus. The country has reported 3,388 confirmed cases, including 13 deaths. Of the total, 3,254 have recovered.

— India registered 74,442 new coronavirus cases, driving the country’s tally to 6.6 million. The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 903 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 102,685. India, the second worst-affected nation in the world after the United States, is witnessing a sustained decline in new coronavirus infections and active virus cases have remained below the million mark for 14 consecutive days. It still is registering the highest number of daily cases globally and is soon expected to cross the U.S. which has 7.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

— South Korea reported 73 new cases of the coronavirus, although officials worry of a potential rise after the five-day holiday period that ended Sunday. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a virus briefing Monday urged people who experience fever or other symptoms after traveling during the holiday to get tested immediately. A recent decline in new infections may be related to fewer tests being conducted during the Chuseok harvest holiday. The updated figures by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency brought the caseload to 24,164, including 422 deaths. The newest cluster in the capital region is an army unit in Pocheon, where more than 30 troops have tested positive.

MANILA, Philippines (AP).

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Twitter CEO defends Trump ban, warns of dangerous precedent

Inside Telecom Staff

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Twitter CEO defends Trump ban, warns of dangerous precedent

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended his company’s ban of President Donald Trump in a philosophical Twitter thread that is his first public statement on the subject.

When Trump incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol last week, then continued to tweet potentially ominous messages, Dorsey said the resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company. Having already briefly suspended Trump’s account the day of the Capitol riot, Twitter on Friday banned Trump entirely, then smacked down the president’s attempts to tweet using other accounts.

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter,“ Dorsey wrote. But he added: ”I believe this was the right decision for Twitter.”

Dorsey acknowledged that shows of strength like the Trump ban could set dangerous precedents, even calling them a sign of “failure.” Although not in so many words, Dorsey suggested that Twitter needs to find ways to avoid having to make such decisions in the first place. Exactly how that would work isn’t clear, although it could range from earlier and more effective moderation to a fundamental restructuring of social networks.

In Dorsey-speak, that means Twitter needs to work harder to “promote healthy conversation.”

Extreme measures such as banning Trump also highlight the extraordinary power that Twitter and other Big Tech companies can wield without accountability or recourse, Dorsey wrote.

While Twitter was grappling with the problem of Trump, for instance, Apple, Google and Amazon were effectively shutting down the right-wing site Parler by denying it access to app stores and cloud-hosting services. The companies charged that Parler wasn’t aggressive enough about removing calls to violence, which Parler has denied.

Dorsey declined to criticize his Big Tech counterparts directly, even noting that “this moment in time might call for this dynamic.” Over the long term, however, he suggested that aggressive and domineering behavior could threaten the “noble purpose and ideals” of the open internet by entrenching the power of a few organizations over a commons that should be accessible to everyone.

The Twitter co-founder, however, had little specific to say about how his platform or other Big Tech companies could avoid such choices in the future. Instead, he touched on an idea that, taken literally, sounds a bit like the end of Twitter itself — a long-term project to develop a technological “standard” that could liberate social networks from centralized control by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

But for the moment, Dorsey wrote, Twitter’s goal “is to disarm as much as we can, and ensure we are all building towards a greater common understanding, and a more peaceful existence on earth.”


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — By DAVID HAMILTON

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US blacklists Xiaomi, CNOOC, Skyrizon, raising heat on China

Inside Telecom Staff

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US blacklists Xiaomi, CNOOC, Skyrizon, raising heat on China

The U.S. government has blacklisted Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and China’s third-largest national oil company for alleged military links, heaping pressure on Beijing in President Donald Trump’s last week in office.

The Department of Defense added nine companies to its list of Chinese companies with military links, including Xiaomi and state-owned plane manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac).

U.S. investors will have to divest their stakes in Chinese companies on the military list by November this year, according to an executive order signed by Trump in November.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xiaomi Corp. overtook Apple Inc. as the world’s No. 3 smartphone maker by sales in the third quarter of 2020, according to data by Gartner. Xiaomi’s market share has grown as Huawei’s sales have suffered after it was blacklisted by the U.S. and its smartphones were cut off from essential services from Google.

Separately, the Commerce Department put China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) on the entity list, an economic blacklist that forbids U.S. firms from exporting or transferring technology with the companies named unless permission has been obtained from the U.S. government. The move comes after about 60 Chinese companies were added to the list in December, including drone maker DJI and semiconductor firm SMIC.

CNOOC has been involved in offshore drilling in the disputed waters South China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with other countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to U.S. national security and the security of the international community,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

“CNOOC acts as a bully for the People’s Liberation Army to intimidate China’s neighbors, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes,” Ross said.

CNOOC did not immediately comment.

Chinese state-owned company Skyrizon was also added to the economic blacklist, for its push to “acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies,” Ross said.

Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, founded by tycoon Wang Jing, drew U.S. criticism for an attempt to take over Ukraine’s military aircraft engine maker Motor Sich in 2017. The concern was that advanced aerospace technology would end up being used for military purposes.


HONG KONG (AP) — By ZEN SOO

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Microsoft ousts rivals from CES marquee as show moves online

Inside Telecom Staff

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This week, Microsoft had a big test on its hands — how to help transform the world’s biggest gadget show into an online-only event.

The choice of Microsoft to power this year’s CES and create a virtual showcase for its 1,800 exhibitors gave the tech giant a big promotional boost over its best-known cloud computing rivals, Amazon and Google.

But it also posed reputational risks, as organizers of this week’s event tried to cobble together a trove of web content and mostly prerecorded panel discussions in a way that could at least partially evoke the gaudy, high-energy convention that takes over the Las Vegas strip each January.

At times, it was hard to pretend this year’s virtual CES was a live event.

“Don’t tell people we’re recording in December,” said panel moderator and venture capitalist Rajeev Chand, jokingly admonishing a Twitter executive after his comments revealed that their debate on user privacy, aired Tuesday, was taped nearly a month earlier.

The Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that runs CES, said it made a final decision in July that its premier event would be virtual, then put out a request for bids and evaluated more than 40 digital platforms before announcing its choice of Microsoft in October. The tech company already had some experience hosting its own big events virtually during the pandemic, including last year’s Build and Ignite conferences, each of which had roughly 200,000 participants.

But Microsoft’s marquee involvement in CES is a change from recent years when Google and Amazon dominated the annual Las Vegas convention with ubiquitous marketing and splashy displays — even a theme park-style ride — as they competed against each other to showcase their digital voice assistants.

Microsoft, by contrast, has kept a lower profile as it’s shifted from a consumer-focused business to one focused on selling its software and services to big organizations.

“Microsoft as a partner might have affected a couple of companies who view themselves as competition, I’m not sure,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA.

Neither Google nor Amazon has said if they had sought to win the contract to run this year’s digital CES, but both companies were mostly sitting out the show this year and showcasing their latest wares elsewhere.

“We talked to all the leading tech companies,” said Jean Foster, CTA’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “Many of these companies were taking the physical world and putting it online. They had avatars walking around a virtual show floor. That’s just not consistent with what we’re doing.”

The event also needed a cloud computing provider that could handle a huge volume of attendees from around the world. And it needed to be able to create a system to register, bill and authenticate attendees.

“We needed high performance and security, so obviously that’s built into the Microsoft brand,” Foster said.

But the job required Microsoft to accomplish some tasks that went beyond what it did for its own events – namely, to recreate, or replace, the experience of a giant showcase of gadgets and technology.

“How could we bring a large group of exhibitors together and show off what they had to say and their value propositions in a way that’s not an expo,” said Bob Bejan, the Microsoft executive who runs its global events and production studios and is leading the CES project. “Because you can’t translate this stuff. You have to reinvent in this medium.”

Anchored at Microsoft’s production studio in Redmond, Washington, the event is designed to turn a typical directory of exhibitors into an interactive digital experience using a mix of video, audio and chat. It’s a test for Microsoft products such as Teams, the workplace communications app that the company is trying to make a must-have service for workplaces during the pandemic.

Conference attendees could send each other messages — no more than 250 of them — and use Teams for virtual meet-and-greet sessions that Bejan said was supposed to work like a “digital parallel to what you would do at an expo or a hotel lobby bar.”

Even when the pandemic wanes, Bejan said Microsoft is pivoting to a future in which he expects digital experiences will remain an important component of conferences and other live events.

By MATT O’BRIEN

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