Furthermore, with the exception of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which cover about 80 percent of households directly with fiber-optic Internet access, only nine out of 100 inhabitants in Arab states used fixed broadband subscriptions, the second-lowest rate of all world regions, after Africa.
The paper says the development of digital infrastructure overall continues to lag behind the rest of the world. This holds back the region’s digital transformation and deprives it of the benefits of investment in improving national core networks.
Digital Infrastructure and Jobs
Overall, unemployment in the region stood at 11.6 percent in 2020, with the “the low-skilled, the young, women, and migrant workers were affected the most” by the pandemic, the report says, citing the International Monetary Fund statistics. Youth unemployment was already over 25 percent in 2019, and employment of young people declined an additional 10 percent in 2020, it adds.
Manuel Langendorf, one of the report’s authors, argued that proper investment in digital infrastructure could help governments confront unemployment.
“Digital transformation is not a silver bullet to the MENA region’s protracted unemployment problem, but it can create new job opportunities, especially for the large and relatively young tech-savvy population,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
“Studies have shown that broadband development leads to increased GDP and has a positive impact on employment in the short term. Part of the picture are newly created jobs to build new digital infrastructure,” he added.
While the longer=term effects seem less clear, Langendorf thinks country-wide improvements to digital infrastructure can bring new economic opportunities, including for disadvantaged populations and rural areas.
“These include the expansion of remote working, as an employee or freelance worker, and also allows workers to search for employment opportunities more widely,” he said. “An improved digital infrastructure also opens up new job opportunities in online education.”