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Tribute to Dr. Praneel Ruplal

By Dr. Luci Abrahams, Director, LINK Centre

It was with sad hearts that we ended the year 2020 with the passing of Praneel Haricharan Ruplal, a top student and committed regulatory professional who completed two postgraduate degrees at the Wits LINK Centre. Praneel was awarded a Master of Management in ICT Policy and Regulation in 2008, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Digital Knowledge Economy Studies in 2018 with a thesis entitled "An Innovative Approach to the Regulation of Equipment Authorisation in Developing Countries: A Grounded Theory Study of South Africa".

Praneel was articulate, mindful, and took easily to academic study. He loved ideas as much as he enjoyed acquiring technical proficiency. He lectured on LINK's Telecoms Policy, Regulation and Management (TPRM) course for many years, and acted as external examiner for the coursework modules of LINK's Master of Arts in ICT Policy and Regulation (MA ICTPR).

Amongst his many contributions to his fellow professionals studying at the LINK Centre, there is one specific contribution that stands out. Praneel used the Atlas.ti data analytics tool, with great skill, in the writing and presentation of his PhD thesis. In our regular, monthly Saturday research seminars for postgraduate students, whenever we discussed the use of Atlas.ti for data analysis, I was guided by Praneel and his work, or recommended that students download and read his thesis.

Praneel's work will continue to be a light to all in this student community of interdisciplinary digital economy studies. Praneel was a leader in this student community; in the electronic communications sector, through his work at ICASA; and also, clearly, in his familial and social circles, noting the beautiful tributes read for him on 31 December.

Go well Praneel. Sincere condolences to the Ruplal family and friends.

In the words of the poet Rumi: "Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom."

The abstract of Praneel's PhD thesis reads as follows:

"The current theoretical approach to equipment authorisation (EA) regulation has proven problematic to resource-poor countries. EA is the technical and administrative process that all electronic communications equipment are subject to before sale and use. EA involves checking the technical characteristics of equipment, by dedicated test facilities, to national or international standards which are enforced by the regulatory authority. Initial research in the South African EA environment has revealed several real-world trends that show that the current approach to EA regulation has limitations when faced with a changing electronic communications (EC) landscape. The general theories of public interest and the economic theory of regulation only broadly form the theoretical basis for EA regulation. The narrow focus of the thesis in developing an innovative approach to EA regulation, in the context of a developing country, required seeing beyond the existing theory surveyed in the literature. Using a Straussian approach to grounded theory, the epistemology of the EA environment is studied inductively via a post-modernistic interpretative framework. The research finds that the EA framework, applicable to efficiency driven and transitional countries with a relatively rich EA testing infrastructure, is predicated on a calculated concept of trust. The regulatory authority employs a tacit computational mechanism to determine the level of trust when dealing with EA applications. The rationale for such an approach is largely driven by sub-optimal decision heuristics available to the regulator, as a result of an inability to corroborate technical data associated with the EA process. The regulator thus applies a differential trust paradigm based on determining factors such as salience. A future knowledge-based approach to EA regulation is theorised, in which technology innovation assimilated from other EA environments, is applied to the EA process to improve institutional efficiency. The goal of applying technology and innovation to the EA process is ultimately centred around increasing the trust value proposition."