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Digitally inclusive society starts with connectivity.

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The term digital inclusion or inclusivity is a relatively new concept that came into existence as a result of the rapid growth and widespread adoption of information and communications technology (ICT) in our society. The Institute of Museum and Library Services of the United States defines digital inclusion as “the ability of individuals and groups to access and use the information and communications technologies.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies in the Maldives, with telehealth, online education, and various other services. Technological change means that digital skills are increasingly important for connecting with others, accessing information and services, and meeting the changing demands of the workplace and economy.

Communication and internet access is the backbone of any digital inclusive society and already Maldives has a widely available mobile network with 2G, 3G and 4G throughout the country.

DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY

From the latest statistics from the Maldives National Bureau of Statistics, Maldives has a population of 568,362 (forecasted) and 717,708 mobile subscribers distributed amongst two Mobile network operators. Internet subscription is at 315,694 users with three internet service providers in the Maldives.

Source: International Telecommunication Union ( ITU ) World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database

According to the World Bank latest release of Maldives Development Update: A Digital Dawn ranks the Maldives ahead of other countries in South Asia when it comes to digital connectivity. According to recent figures published by International Telecommunication Union ( ITU ), World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database Maldives internet usage is 63.2% compared to the population. The Maldives is also ahead when it comes to mobile phone usage, compared to the average of South Asian countries of 85%, with 140.9% connection compared to the population.

Maldives communication network is connected to both Sri Lanka and India via submarine cable. This year also saw Dhiraagu and Ooredoo collaborate with Huawei and Dialog AXIATA to build the Maldives-Sri Lanka Cable, connecting Colombo to Hulhumalé at a cost of USD 22 million. Also, Dhiraagu and Ooredoo have been running a national submarine cable network from North to South to connect their main hubs.

Maldives-Sri Lanka Cable (MSC) landing event Photo: Ooredoo/Facebook

The national submarine cable system has assisted these telecommunication companies to change networks reliance on radio technology for their national network. Thus, further improving core networks connectivity and bandwidth, giving freedom to provide more services and solutions. This also helped these companies to roll out 4G services across the country and laid the foundation for the 5G mobile network role out with currently covering few areas in various cities.

However, with these improvements in the past 10 years to the communication network still, there are large differences when it comes to the adoption of digital technology based on demographics, location and education. According to preliminary estimates from the 2019 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), 83 per cent of households in the capital city of Malé have access to fixed broadband services, while only 51 per cent of households within the atoll. There are still islands without fixed broadband service, and they rely mostly on mobile for their broadband service. This digital divide is more exposed when we dive into broadband speeds, as Malé City residents enjoy faster connectivity when compared to atolls (figures are twice the speed of atoll). 2016/2017 Demographic Health Survey shows that Maldivians with more than a secondary education are three times more likely to have used the Internet compared to those with no education.

Despite the transformative impact of technology on Maldivian society, there is still a digital divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not, giving rise to inequalities in access to opportunities, information, services, and goods. But unfortunately, those who are not engaging effectively with the digital world are at risk of being left behind.

COST OF TELECOMMUNICATION

Maldives has one of the highest telecommunication costs in the world, with two main operators functioning as a duopoly with little regulatory oversight from the Communication Authority of Maldives (CAM). Communication Authority of Maldives was established in 2016 under the Communications Authority of Maldives Act as a regulatory board for the telecommunication sector in the Maldives.

Rank Name Mobile Average price of 1GB (USD)
1 Bangladesh $0.34
2 Sri Lanka $0.38
3 Pakistan $0.59
4 Nepal $0.61
5 India $0.68
6 Bhutan $0.83
7 Maldives $3.24

Data extracted from cable.co.uk.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have one of the cheapest mobile data and amongst ten countries for the cheapest mobile data availability in the world. When the Maldives compares to the next most expensive country for mobile data in the region Bhutan, Maldivians pay 388% more than what a Bhutanese pays for a 1GB of mobile data.

As per the figures from the CAM website, there are 64,800 fixed broadband subscribers in the Maldives, from which most of the subscribers are concentrated to the Greater Male’ Area and Cities of Maldives. As per the Maldives Development Update: A Digital Dawn published by World Bank, the share of Maldivians with a fixed broadband Internet subscription is lower than the average for upper-middle-income countries and most Caribbean SIDS, the main reason for this is the high prices charged in the Maldives. ITU estimated at 2019 monthly price for the subscription of an entry-level fixed broadband plan is about 3.1 per cent of Maldives’ per capita income, which is way higher than the UN recommended target of 2 per cent.

Prices are extremely high relative to the quality of services that subscribers receive, data collected by cable.co.uk in January 2021, the average download speed in the Maldives was 5.88 megabytes per second (Mbps), behind India (13.46 Mbps) and Sri Lanka (20.73 Mbps) in the region. When we translate this into a simple logic, which means if you download a file which is 5GB in Sri Lanka, you will download it in 33 minutes in the Maldives, it will be almost 2 hours. When we are being left behind in this digital divide due to the unaffordability of internet service in the Maldives, many countries are looking at or implementing ultrafast broadband internet at speeds averaging over 100 Mbps.

GOVERNMENT FORCED PRICING

Maldivian government announced through the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology new pricing and packages after negotiating with the Internet Service Providers. At these discussions and negotiations by the government, Dhiraagu and Ooredoo took the centre stage, and for some unknown reason, the third ISP Raajje Online was left in the back seat.

This will definitely provide an opportunity for more bargaining powers to the duopoly of Dhiraagu and Ooredoo, which might be the reason for Twitter uproar with rumours that the government has negotiated not to welcome a new telecom service provider in the country for a couple of years, which was later rebuffed by the Ministry.

Package Speed(Mbps) Allowance(GB) Price(MVR)
5 30 250
15 100 500
25 200 700

The current changes to the pricing will benefit the subscribers of fixed broadband immensely and bringing down the prices by 28 to 30% compared to the current price and will be enforced from 1st July 2021. Even with the reduction in the price which is still above the region’s average and above UN recommended levels.

As a duopoly controlling the telecommunication in the Maldives, it gives unauthoritative powers to Dhiraagu and Ooredoo to play with the quality of service of the internet, with little regulatory oversight from the Communication Authority of Maldives. With current price changes management of ISPs’ will mitigate the loss of the revenue with cost management measures, this will affect the quality of service of the internet. As internet service providers Dhiraagu, Ooredoo and Raajje Online buys bandwidth, network access and other network services from companies who are Network Service Providers (NSP) from abroad with long term and short term agreed pricing and bandwidth.

Quality of Service (QoS) is a set of technologies that work on a network to guarantee to make sure internet speed or experience is not hindered and internet users are able to enjoy browsing, video and voice chat, streaming service etc. Internet Service Providers will be able to control outgoing traffic to international websites and location with speed restriction thus reducing the quality of service for internet users. One of the questions on your minds will be “Are internet service providers capable of doing this?”, the answer is simple “yes”, they can, and they do it even now to shape and prioritize the traffic. With forced pricing and packages ISP can reduce their international bandwidth to bring down the cost, leaving reduced bandwidth to be distributed amongst their customers.

Communication Authority of Maldives is the regulatory body for the telecommunication industry of Maldives, needs to be more active and vigilant on QoS of the internet.

Conclusion

Giving the authority to Internet Service Providers to set pricing doesn’t help any stakeholders and it isn’t perfect but neither are completely imposed restricted pricing or packages from the government. From a pricing point of it benefits the internet users but there is potential for degraded quality of service and reduction in investments for infrastructure in the long run.

Government should take steps from a regulatory point and also increase the competition to break the duopoly of Dhiraagu and Ooredoo to improve the quality of services, reduce the price in open market and infrastructure developments for communication and internet service in the whole country.

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Joint actions will be crucial in climate change fight

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By Muhammad Asif Noor | China Daily Global:

The recent floods in various countries, the drying up of rivers and lakes, the wildfires, droughts and frequent and drastic weather changes around the world all call for greater climate action.

China has been at the forefront of the global campaign for more effective climate governance and has remained steadfast in its resolve to foster concerted efforts to secure a sustainable future for all peoples. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed China’s commitment to sustainable global development at the United Nations General Assembly in September. He stressed that the country is taking resolute actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and is playing a significant role in helping to implement international protocols and conventions to address climate change.

Despite being the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing economy, the latest data and global studies show that from the greening of the Belt and Road Initiative to the call of the Global Development Initiative to uphold the principle of harmony between man and nature, China has made the conservation of nature a focus of global development.

Regardless of any other country’s actions or policies, the Chinese leadership prioritizes this issue as a critical component of its national, regional and international policies. President Xi Jinping has on numerous occasions highlighted the steps and actions China has taken as a responsible country to address the global climate change challenges. As Xi said at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden in April last year, China “adheres to a path that puts ecological conservation first while pursuing green and low-carbon growth” and is doing its best to help developing countries build capacity against climate change through various forms of results-oriented South-South cooperation.

Fully cognizant of the impacts of global climate change and therefore the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, China is working tirelessly to reduce its own carbon emissions and increase the proportion of renewable energy in its energy mix.

The targets set by the government are based on two policy road maps — the Working Guidance for Carbon Dioxide Peaking and Carbon Neutrality, and the Action Plan for Carbon Dioxide Peaking Before 2030. But aside from these, China’s 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development (2021-25) also has nonfossil fuel energy-related targets.

Efforts at the national level further translate to the international level, where from remote sensing satellites for climate monitoring in Africa to low-carbon demonstration zones in Southeast Asia and energy-efficient lights in small island countries, climate cooperation is yielding tangible results.

Through research and development programs and the effective use of the latest technology, China is also promoting climate action cooperation under the umbrella of its BRI, applying scientific ways for participating countries to reduce their carbon footprints.

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27, will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from Sunday to Nov 18. China has promised to contribute to it by delivering favorable and equitable outcomes in sectors including climate reduction, adaptation and finance. It is rallying countries to step up their commitments on climate action and calling on countries to deliver on their climate promises.

With the threats from the impacts of global climate change becoming more acute, it is important that countries do their utmost to respond to President Xi’s call for joint actions to build “a community of life for mankind and nature” in order to jointly cope with the challenges.

Source(s): China Daily Global

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World Insights: Europe fears losing economic competitiveness as manufacturers lured to U.S. in energy crisis

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As the European Union (EU) countries are struggling to find a solution to its energy crisis, the United States has become a hot destination for the relocation of their industries, and emerges as the biggest winner.

BRUSSELS, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) — Europe is beset by a severe energy crisis. Household energy bills are through the roof. Inflation remains stubbornly high, and the cost of living is soaring. Angry people took to the streets. Worse still, cold weather is on the way and a tough winter is ahead.

The list of problems goes on, yet the real risk the continent faces, experts believe, is loss of competitive edge due to rising energy costs, as manufacturers are shifting their production to the United States where energy is cheaper and incentives were unveiled.

As the European Union (EU) countries are struggling to find a solution to its energy crisis, the United States has become a hot destination for the relocation of their industries, and emerges as the biggest winner.

SOARING ENERGY PRICES

The European countries have been suffering under painfully high energy prices as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the spillover of the United States’ aggressive interest rate hikes.

Europe’s energy supply from Russia has been seriously reduced as the Ukraine crisis continues. Last year, up to 40 percent of the natural gas used in the EU to heat homes and power businesses came from Russia. Today, this figure has fallen to around 9 percent.

With access to Russian gas becoming increasingly difficult, European countries had to switch to much expensive American liquefied natural gas (LNG). The quantity of LNG purchased by Europe from the United States has exceeded piped gas from Russia for the first time in June, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which means the United States is replacing Russia to possibly become Europe’s largest energy supplier.

However, the United States sells its LNG to Europe at “four times” the price at which it sells to American suppliers, said French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who feared that the United States could benefit from the situation to the detriment of European interests.

“We are going to say with great friendship towards our American friends, our Norwegian friends, that ‘you are great, you provide us with gas.’ But there is one thing that can’t work for a very long time, that is we can’t pay for gas that is four times more expensive,” French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his dissatisfaction recently.

“We can see that the United States is the biggest beneficiary of this energy crisis. Huge profits flow into the pockets of U.S. natural gas suppliers,” Cui Hongjian, director of the department for European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

With the Ukraine crisis, the United States has succeeded in making Europe not only more dependent on it for security, but also for energy in the future, he added.

RISING PRODUCTION COSTS

Energy has been regarded as the bedrock of sound economic development. Though accounting for a small fraction of GDP for most developed countries, the energy sector has an out-sized impact on inflation and input costs for all sectors due to its ubiquity in consumption.

Europe’s energy costs approximately 2 percent of GDP in normal times, but it has soared to an estimated 12 percent on the back of surging prices, a recent article of Foreign Policy said, adding that high costs of this magnitude mean that many industries across Europe are scaling back operations or shutting down completely.

The analysis has been echoed by industry observers, who said that soaring energy prices in Europe are forcing a large number of European energy-intensive plants to curtail or even terminate production, which is a sign of expanding deindustrialization in Europe. If the trend continues, the industrial structure of Europe may be eroded for good, they warned.

As an instance of the toll Europe has taken for high energy prices, the Dutch aluminium maker Aldel has announced that it is halting the production of primary aluminium because electricity prices are too high.

Yara, one of the world’s leading crop nutrition companies, has shut down its fertilizer plant in Sluiskil of the Netherlands.

Nicolas de Warren, the president of Uniden, the Federation of energy-intensive industries in France, has said that the industries have reached a limit as the sector’s competitiveness is overshadowed by price spikes of energy.

Some industries may survive the energy crunch in Europe by importing elementary products from the United States at lower costs. However, the metal, chemical, glass, ceramic and paper industries in Europe will be eroded, de Warren warned.

According to Eurometaux, the European non-ferrous metals association, the power crisis has knocked 50 percent of the EU’s aluminium and zinc capacity offline, and the impact also includes significant curtailments in silicon and ferroalloys production, as well as on copper and nickel sectors.

BIG WINNER

While European manufacturers are shrinking production, with some even struggling for survival due to the high energy costs, things are quite different on the other side of the Atlantic.

German media reports showed that German flag carrier Lufthansa, multinational conglomerate corporation Siemens, supermarket brand Aldi and health care company Fresenius, four out of the more than 60 German companies in Oklahoma, have jointly added 300 million U.S. dollars of investment in the U.S. state.

The expansion of investment by the German auto industry in the United States is also in full swing. The largest German car maker Volkswagen laid the foundation for a new battery laboratory in the State of Tennessee in June, and it has committed 7.1 billion dollars in supplier partnerships in North America through 2027. In March, Mercedes-Benz opened a new battery assembly plant in Bibb County, Alabama. BMW has also announced a plan to increase its investment in Electric Vehicles in the State of South Carolina.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict drives up Europe’s energy costs, a number of European manufacturers are being lured to the relative stability of the United States, a Wall Street Journal article recently reported. “A big winner is emerging from Europe’s energy crisis, and it’s the U.S. economy.”

Several factors contribute to economic relocation. On one hand, the relatively low energy prices in the United States translate into lower production costs for European manufacturers, which is leading them to move some of their production from Europe to the United States.

On the other, U.S. Congress passed a landmark 430-billion dollar climate, tax and healthcare bill named Inflation Reduction Act in August. According to the Act, most of the funds will be earmarked as subsidies for energy and climate programs, which fueled a green energy investment rush by European companies in the United States.

Washington’s incentives have upset the Europeans, who fear the Inflation Reduction Act could upend the “level playing field” on trade between the EU and the United States.

“We need to work on adequate European responses to this American Inflation Reduction Act, which might jeopardize the developing field between our two continents,” Le Maire said recently.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck also noted that companies and firms are drawn away from Europe to the United States “because of the strong subsidies paid there.”

Europe has crippled its energy system, its energy markets, a mix of fuel types and sources, energy infrastructure, long-term contracts and geopolitical relationships needed to assure energy stability and security, said John Pang, a senior fellow at New York-based Bard College.

“In the short term, there will be shortages, supply uncertainty, financial turmoil and political upheaval. In the long term, Europe will complete its deindustrialization. More major companies will certainly move to the U.S.,” Pang said.

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World Insights: China’s initiatives on development, security conducive to world peace, prosperity

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BEIJING, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) — With the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) opening on Sunday, the world is paying close attention to the programs of action and overarching policies that will be formulated during the landmark event.

When delivering a key report to the CPC congress, Xi Jinping said China has always been committed to its foreign policy goals of upholding world peace and promoting common development, reiterating the country’s dedication to promoting a human community with a shared future.

The world has once again reached a crossroads in history, and its future course will be decided by all the world’s peoples, he said.

In the face of headwinds from setbacks in economic globalization, the COVID-19 pandemic and flare-ups of regional conflicts, global collective efforts are in urgent need to address growing deficit in peace, development, trust and governance. Against such backdrop, Xi has proposed the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI).

Offering Chinese wisdom to human society standing at a crossroads, the two initiatives have been greeted with applause from the international community.

BRIDGING DEVELOPMENT GAPS

Development is at the top of governance agenda and the perennial theme of human society.

Epitomizing Xi’s global vision and people-centered philosophy, the GDI aims to focus global attention on development, foster global development partnership, and achieve more robust, greener and more balanced global development.

Targeting the deficit of development, it aims to overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic and accelerate the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The holistic Global Development Initiative is a valued contribution to addressing common challenges and accelerating the transition to a more sustainable and inclusive future,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Putting the people front and center, a fundamental pursuit of the initiative is to meet the aspirations of people around the world for a better life and realize the common values of humanity.

To that end, China has been walking the talk.

In January, China launched the Group of Friends of the GDI at the United Nations, and over 60 countries have joined it. In the same month, China launched Phase III of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)-China South-South Cooperation Trust Fund with a total amount of 50 million U.S. dollars, providing considerable resources for international cooperation in poverty reduction and food security.

In February, the China-Pacific Island Countries Climate Action Cooperation Center was inaugurated to support relevant countries in enhancing their capacity to cope with climate change.

The GDI is “a ‘remobilization’ of world development cooperation and a ‘reaffirmation’ of the people-oriented concept,” said Fahd Almenei, researcher with the Center for Research and Intercommunication Knowledge of Saudi Arabia.

COMMON SECURITY

“With peace, a country enjoys prosperity, just as with rain, the land can flourish,” Xi once quoted an Uzbek proverb.

The world today is not a peaceful place. And rivalry between two sets of policy choices — unity or division, cooperation or confrontation — is getting more acute.

Deeming that humanity is an indivisible security community, Xi proposed the Global Security Initiative to create a new path to security featuring dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance and win-win over zero-sum.

The GSI, which emphasizes the need for common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security, provides the right guiding philosophy to ensure global peace and security, said David Monyae, director of the Center for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

“The China-proposed Global Security Initiative is crucial as it comes at a critical time when the world is grappling with multiple crises,” Monyae said.

Sergei Lukonin, head of the Department of Chinese Politics and Economics at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the GSI “can certainly bring additional new directions for the peaceful development of the whole world.”

“I believe that the GSI will help build an indivisible, just and equitable security global community,” said Joseph Matthews, a senior professor at the BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh.

CHINESE SOLUTION

As Xi has said, “only when countries develop together can there be true development; only when countries prosper together can there be true prosperity.”

As a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, a defender of the international order, and a provider of public goods, China has been committed to promoting the development of its own and the whole world at large.

China will continue to follow the Chinese path to modernization to achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and will continue to promote the building of a human community with a shared future, Xi has said.

“By doing so, we will create new opportunities for the world with new advances in China’s development and contribute our vision and strength to world peace and development and human progress,” he added.

Commenting on the two important initiatives, Sudheendra Kulkarni, former chairman of the Mumbai-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation, said the GDI and the GSI presented by China are of immense benefit to the international community.

“These initiatives are noble ones because they are in the interest of the whole mankind” and look for “the contribution of all countries in order to sustain peace and stability in the world and in order to work all together for the common interest,” said Algerian Ambassador to China Hassane Rabehi.

In a highly interconnected world where non-traditional threats are more challenging, countries can promote peace and preserve the gains of development only through common development and cooperation, said Pramod Jaiswal, research director of Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement.

Therefore, China’s vision of building a human community with a shared future is peculiarly worth appreciation, Jaiswal observed, voicing confidence that China has been playing a crucial role and will encourage more participation in the cause.

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