Myanmar’s communication network is as archaic as its transport system, although both look set to change rapidly over the coming years as the country opens its doors to foreign investors. For the time being, however, cellphone use remains minimal, and the Internet slow, expensive, and partially censored. Press censorship has eased considerably since 2011, but choice is still severely limited, and criticism of the regime and its policies muted. The state-run postal system also falls well below international standards – it can be unreliable, and for sending souvenirs home, private couriers are still the safest option.
Post and Courier Services
There is no shortage of post offices in Myanmar, and while staff are smiling and helpful, postal services can be a bit undependable. Because there has never been a stan dardized way of transliterating Burmese into English, postal addresses in Myanmar are notoriously hitandmiss – except in the city of Mandalay, whose grid plan system makes addresses easy to find. Foreign travelers typi- cally report a success rate of 50 per cent or less for post cards. For sending souvenirs home, the only sensible option is to use a private courier such as DHL or Express Mail Service International (EMS).
International calls can be made from most hotels and local side- walk telephone centers, but are extremely expensive (several US dollars per minute). Calls to trunk or local landline numbers are considerably cheaper, but still quite costly compared to other countries. Although Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls were banned for years – allegedly to protect revenue from inter national calls earned by the stateowned telecom company – it is now possible to cut costs by making webbased VoIP calls using applications such as Skype and GTalk.
The cell phone revolution has finally reached Myanmar, more than a decade after mobile telephony became the norm in the rest of Southeast Asia. Foreign telecom companies have been licensed to expand existing networks, and travelers can now buy local SIM cards for around $1.50. Major providers include Telenor and Ooredoo. To buy a payasyougo SIM card – available at the airport and all major towns – foreigners must provide a passport photo and photocopies of their passport and Myanmar visa. International roaming is also available for some foreign networks. General coverage is still patchy and mobile data provision unreliable, but the situation is rapidly improving.
Internet access – a rarity until very recently – is now fairly widespread in Myanmar, and getting more so every year. Many hotels, including those at the budget end of the spectrum, offer WiFi to guests, and while not yet ubiquitous, public WiFi connections are become more common in upscale cafés and restaurants. Connection speeds, however, still leave a lot to be desired, particularly in remote areas. Installation costs and Internet subscription charges are high, so local users still mainly rely on Internet cafés. Most of these are cramped and crowded affairs, with old computers and keyboards, although some of the better ones do have airconditioning and modern equipment. The government has now removed most of the previous restrictions on access to international news and social media websites. Twitter, Facebook, and the CNN and BBC websites can all now be accessed from within Myanmar.
Newspapers and Magazines
A watershed moment in Myanmar’s modern history took place in the spring of 2013, when four independent, privately owned newspapers hit the stands in Yangon – the first of more than a dozen similar publications to be published across the country in that year. Before this landmark relaxation of the formerly tight state con- trol of Myanmar’s press, the only papers available were held in check by threats of cen sor- ship, imprisonment, and torture for any journalist critical of the military regime. English- language edi tions are published by two newspapers. The New Light of Myanmar is essentially a propa ganda tool for the gov- ernment, favoring articles about the achievements of the mili- tary. The Myanmar Times is also close to the gov ernment, despite being partly foreign- owned. For a more impartial perspective on the nation’s current affairs, Irrawaddy is a quality magazine produced by Burmese exiles living in Thailand. The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), as its name suggests, is more overtly aligned with the pro-democracy movement. Based in Norway, DVB is a banned organization and publishes only online on a website hosted on Norwegian servers. It also makes TV and radio broadcasts.
Television and Radio
As with the rest of the media in Myanmar, television and radio are tightly controlled by the state. The main channels are TV Myanmar and Myawaddy TV, which show a mix of soaps, entertainment, and news in Burmese. Satellite networks such as MRTV-4 also bundle local stations with foreign ones, many of them in English. CNN, BBC World, and National Geographic can be viewed on most hotel television sets.