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Calendar 2018 - Connected Lifestyles of Sri Lanka


As a responsible corporate citizen, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) is committed to ‘preserving heritage for tomorrow’ for the benefit of future generations and to ensure long-term sustainability of the country’s rich natural and cultural heritage. In previous years, SLT Calendars have focussed on a wide range of subjects; Rush & Reed Craft, Wild Fruits, Medicinal Plants, and Traditional Rice of Sri Lanka, to mention a few.

In an expression of SLT’s commitment to the environment, this year’s Calendar uses only Forest Stewardship Council certified paper that is sourced in an environmentally-friendly, socially-responsible and economically-viable manner. To further mitigate and offset its impact on the environment, printing was done using food grade ink.

The 2018 SLT Calendar, produced under the theme ‘Connected Lifestyles of Sri Lanka’ aims to raise awareness among members of the general public on the contribution and role of telecommunication services in developing the nation, its economy and connecting lifestyles.

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The Telegraph Connection

Sri Lanka’s first encounter with modern telecommunications services was in 1857, when the Ceylon Telegraph Department was established. By the following year, the island’s first electrical telegraph circuit was linking Galle and Colombo, with coconut trees serving as telegraph poles. During this era, Ceylon was amongst the major coffee-producing nations emerging in the world. As the demand for coffee grew, British administrators introduced railways in 1858 to transport their precious coffee to waiting ships with speed and efficiency. The Telegraph Office was a key link in the rapid adoption and spread of telegraphic services across the island of Ceylon.





Privileged Connected Life

In 1880, the first private telephone line was established by Alston Scott & Company between its Head Office and its coffee stores in Colombo Fort. As of 1896, about 150 miles of telephone cables connected 56 subscribers with the total population of Ceylon at the time numbering three million. In 1897, a new manual switchboard with a capacity of 300 subscribers was commissioned by the Fort Exchange. As of 1920, over 2300 subscribers had been added to the telephone network with a waiting-list in excess of 540 individuals, all eager to experience the power of telephone communication. Meanwhile, the commercial cultivation of crops such as coffee, tea, rubber and cinnamon resulted in an economic transformation that created and empowered a wealthy new social class.




The Railway Calls

Parallel to the rapid development of the economy, colonial administrators also identified the establishment of transport and communication infrastructure as key to profitable enterprises. The introduction of rail travel to Ceylon took place in 1858 by establishing a Main Railway Line of 86 miles connecting Colombo and Ambepussa. In 1911, the first underground telegraph cables in the island were drawn from the Central Telegraph Office in Fort to the Maradana Railway Station, from where a web of overhead wires fanned out connecting railway stations all along the network. The railways were a blessing not only for tea and spice merchants but also for ordinary citizens that soon found travelling much more convenient. Both the humble telegraph and telephone proved instrumental to rail operations and the provision of a reliable and safe service.




Hill Capital Connection

On 5th March 1815, the Union Jack was hoisted in Senkadagala, Kandy and British cannons heralded that King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha of Kandy had been replaced by King George III of Great Britain. Five days later the Kandyan Convention, ceding the Kandyan Kingdom to the British, was signed. In the run-up to this point, many Kandyan noblemen had begun turning against their own King, often prompted by colonial promises of titles, land or riches. This new found wealth soon gave birth to a generation of elite chieftains; Adigars, Nilames, and Dissawas. By 1910, these wealthy aristocrats of Kandyan society, including plantation owners, were keen to experience the luxury and social status that came with access to newly introduced telephone services and connections.




State Offices being Connected

The Sri Lanka Police Force was formalized in 1866 under the stewardship of the first Chief Superintendent of Police in Ceylon. By 1913, one hundred and nineteen police stations were in operation with a total strength of 2306 policemen. During the 1920s, the island saw the introduction of its first automatic exchanges, which offered subscribers a higher quality service at an affordable rate. This era also witnessed state offices being connected by telephone for the first time in order to serve the public better and with improved efficiency. The telephone proved invaluable to the Police Force, making the fight against crime and maintaining law and order across the island much easier.





Public Connections

With a boom in local industries, tea and cinnamon exports reaching all-time highs, a wealthy-middle class soon began to emerge. As of 1920, sixty public call boxes had been set up in key public places across the island. These facilities were of great benefit not only to members of the general public but also to traders and merchants that now relied heavily on the telephone to conduct business and trading activities. Public call boxes were also used as temporary guard posts by the police. The public call boxes put telephone services within the reach of ordinary citizens that could not afford the luxury of a personal telephone at home or office. Automatic exchanges were established to cater to the growing subscriber demand from outlying rural districts of Ceylon.





Connecting Black Lead

March of 1935 saw international telephone links being established for the very first time via India. By 1920, graphite or plumbago mining, introduced by the Dutch, was in full swing. The largest of such mines were situated at Bogala and Kahatagaha. In 1942, graphite became the island’s second largest export with about 35,000 metric tons of natural graphite being exported. The mining industry was nationalised in 1971. With the establishment of the Graphite Corporation in 1972, mining operations were streamlined, resulting in export revenues increasing significantly. The invention of a special mining telephone instrument proved to be of critical importance and value to mine operators. It ensured a safe and profitable operation in an often harsh, underground environment.




Ceylon Tea connected to Global

In 1925, the Tea Research Institute was established to conduct research on maximising yields and methods of production. By 1930, Ceylon was producing in excess of 20 million kilograms of Pure Ceylon Tea each year. On June 1st 1951, the Government of Sri Lanka acquired the assets and technologies of the British Cable and Wireless Company that was in charge of international telephone services. By 1965, the advent of telephonic communication between buyers and sellers from different countries allowed the island of Sri Lanka, to become the world's largest tea exporter for the very first time. The ever-increasing profit from the tea trade also proved to be beneficial to immigrant plantation sector workers who had been previously isolated for decades. During the 1940s many rural plantations began to be connected by telephone services.




Connecting Hub for Defence

During the Second World War in 1939, Ceylon’s strategic geographic location meant that the island nation was considered an important Pan-Asian communication hub. Ceylon was therefore designated as the headquarters of the South East Asia Command of the Allied Forces, as its centre for military communications. The significance of Ceylon as a communications hub was such that on 5th April 1942, the Trincomalee harbour was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Air force. During the period 1940-1945, the telephone played a crucial role in the Civil Defence Air Raid Precaution Communication System that was designed, installed and maintained by the chief telecommunications engineer of the time. Several temporary airstrips were built across the country, with the largest at the Colombo race course. Early telecommunications technologies also played a significant role in helping allied forces defend each other’s territories.




The Village is Calling

With Ceylon’s resurgence as an independent country, its new national government recognised telecommunications services as key enablers for rural development and the upliftment of social and economic standards of the masses. By the end of 1945, Ceylon’s public telephone system had 4,639 subscribers from Colombo and 2,940 outstation subscribers. In 1950, the capacity of the Central Telephone Exchange was extended to provide connections to 1,000 new subscribers, with manual and automatic exchanges continually added in. By the end of 1952 there were a total of 110 manual and 173 automatic exchanges with a total subscriber base of 13,608. This rapid expansion in the provision of telephonic services took place right across the island with a majority of emerging middle and upper class families preferring to have a telephone device of their very own.




Connecting to the World

With the onset of an open economy, widespread development of communications infrastructure took place. By 1980, Sri Lanka was able to experience International Direct Dialling (IDD) telephone services via satellite. For the first time, the citizens of Sri Lanka now had access to high quality global telephone calls. The development of the country’s overseas telecommunication capabilities also particularly benefited Sri Lankan migrant workers and their families, affording faster access to communications. These new opportunities for overseas communication subsequently gave rise to a whole new telecom-related industry - that of ‘Communication Centres’ that sprang up across the island in almost every city, town and village.





Connecting Businesses

The Telecommunications Act of 1991 resulted in the setting up of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) as a public corporation. By 1996, with the privatisation of SLT came the challenge of moving from a bureaucracy to a dynamic customer-facing organisation. With an increasingly efficient service provision, SLT was soon able to clear a long backlog of subscribers that had been on waiting lists. This acceleration and rapid deployment of professional telecommunications services increased the customer base of SLT phenomenally within a very short period of time. Today, all across the island, from cities to towns to rural village communities, telecommunications technology continues to play an important role in improving quality of life and Connecting Lifestyles. 




It is impossible to imagine the future without reflecting on the past, and in this Calendar, through the use of art style illustrations, an attempt is made to pay respect and tribute to the early history of Sri Lanka’s Connected Lifestyles, in the hope of creating a positive discourse, as a modern era of digital communication beckons.

In 1858, the first electrical telegraph circuit was established in Ceylon between Galle and Colombo and it signalled the beginning of Sri Lanka’s telecommunication journey that enabled individuals, families, villages, towns and cities to communicate with each other; promoting unity, co-existence and an informed society with Connected Lifestyles.

The very first telephone lines were installed by the Oriental Telephone Company in 1881 and with growing interest, in 1896, the government of Ceylon purchased the Company along with its fifty-six subscribers and it was assigned under the Department of Post and Telegraph.

The early history of thriving coffee and vast tea plantations would not have been a reality without telecommunication services that not only served the interests of colonial administrators, traders and merchants but also proved of great and significant value to the establishment of railways in Ceylon and the systematic connecting of state offices; helping to improve the efficiency of public services.

By the 1970s, Sri Lanka was emboldened by telecommunication services that helped it connect to the global stage. In 1980, with the onset of an open economy, the Department of Post and Telecommunication was split into two distinct functions in order to underline the critical importance of recognising and developing telecommunication infrastructure in line with rapid economic development.

The establishment of Sri Lanka Telecom as a public corporation in 1991 and its privatisation by 1996 provided it the opportunity to offer all subscribers the best of quality, service and technology. Sri Lankan telecommunication services have ensured that commercial and business organisations could continuously engage with the rest of the world, thus playing an important role in driving commerce and the economy in a positive manner.



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