Despite the widely reported phenomenal growth in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the Asia-Pacific region, a new study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has found that broadband capabilities and access are highly concentrated in East and North-East Asia.
The report titled, “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide”, also confirms that the gap between advanced and developing countries in fixed broadband access is indeed widening, and unless targeted policy interventions are put in place, the trend will continue to the detriment of future development opportunities.
The Report shows that 74.89 per cent of total fixed broadband subscriptions in Asia and the Pacific are concentrated in East and North-East Asia, followed by South and South-West Asia (9.77 per cent), North and Central Asia (7.68 per cent), South-East Asia (5.74 per cent) and the Pacific (1.93 per cent), according to the 2015 data.
Findings indicate that over 52.3 per cent of global fixed broadband subscribers now come from ESCAP member States, a dramatic increase from 2005 when the region constituted only 38.1 per cent. The Report also found that in 2015, less than 2 per cent of the population had adopted fixed broadband in as many as 20 countries in Asia and the Pacific, widening the digital divide between high-income and low-income countries at an alarming speed.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar underlined that broadband connectivity is a critical foundation for the digital economy and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia-Pacific, and that ESCAP is working with member States to improve broadband access for countries in the region.
“As a result of this digital divide, millions of people are shut out from transformative digital opportunities in education, health, business and financial services,” said Dr. Akhtar.
“In response to the widening gap, ESCAP is promoting the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative, to increase the availability and affordability of broadband Internet across Asia and the Pacific, by strengthening the underlying Internet infrastructure in the region,” she added.
In particular, the Report shows that e-commerce strongly correlates with access to fixed broadband connectivity, suggesting that enhancing ICT infrastructure connectivity would increase business-to-business e-commerce in the region. The Report also examined emerging trends in developing online content, differential patterns of mobile broadband expansion and usage, as well as the impact of regulatory quality and investment in broadband adoption.
The study findings will serve as the basis for the inaugural ESCAP Committee on ICT, Science, Technology and Innovation to be held from 5 to 7 October 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand.
How will oil prices shape the Covid-19 recovery in emerging markets?
– After falling significantly in 2020, oil prices have returned to pre-pandemic levels
– The rise has been driven by OPEC+ production cuts and an improving economic climate
– Higher prices are likely to support a rebound in oil-producing emerging markets
– Further virus outbreaks or increased production would pose challenges to price stability
A combination of continued production cuts and an increase in economic activity has prompted oil prices to return to pre-pandemic levels – a factor that will be crucial to the recovery of major oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Brent crude prices rose above $60 a barrel in early February, the first time they had exceeded pre-Covid-19 values. They have since continued to rise, going above $66 a barrel on February 24.
The ongoing increase in oil prices, which have soared by 75% since November and around 26% since the beginning of the year, marks a dramatic change from last year.
Following the closure of many national borders and the implementation of travel-related restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, demand for oil slumped globally.
In the wake of the Saudi-Russia price war in early 2020, Brent crude prices fell from around $60 a barrel in February that year to two-decade lows of $20 a barrel in late April, as supply increased and demand plummeted. The value of WTI crude – the main benchmark for oil in the US – fell to record lows of around $40 a barrel last year on the back of a lack of storage space.
While global demand for oil remains low, one factor credited with reversing the trend is the decision to make significant cuts to oil production, which subsequently tightened global supplies.
How the Rural-Urban Divide Plays Out on Digital Platforms
It is one thing for entrepreneurs, whether urban or rural, to create and operate an online store, as some digital platforms have made it relatively easy to manage an e-store – even by using just a smartphone.
Will South-east Asia’s tech giants turn to SPACs to boost post-pandemic growth?
– The vehicle is widely used to help tech start-ups go public
– Both Singapore’s and Indonesia’s exchanges are set to allow SPACs
– Several South-east Asian tech unicorns may use SPACs to list publicly
South-east Asia is seeing a wave of interest in special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, with various major tech players considering them as a means to fast-track public listings. In parallel to this, several exchanges in the region are moving to allow SPAC listings, with a view to boosting post-coronavirus growth.
SPACs are shell companies set up by investors and then listed on a given stock exchange. Their sole function is to acquire a private company, enabling it to go public without having to go through a traditional initial public offering (IPO).
A SPAC does nothing beyond its essential function – it neither produces nor sells anything, and a SPAC’s only assets are the funds raised from its own IPO.
Crucially, people who buy into a SPAC do not know what its eventual acquisition target or targets will be. This is why SPACs are often referred to as “blank cheque companies”: they give the founders a free rein to back their choice of private company. A key feature of SPACs is that they are often headed by big-name business executives or fund managers, who trade on past successes to inspire trust in investors.
While they are far from a novel phenomenon, SPACs have become a hot button topic in recent times: SPAC initial offerings quadrupled last year, with the vehicles raising a record $80bn.
Merging with a SPAC enables a company to go public and raise capital more quickly and painlessly than with a traditional IPO, circumventing some of the volatility that Covid-19 unleashed on global markets. At the same time, they function rather like venture capital, helping investors to buy into high-growth start-ups on the ground floor.
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