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As TSMC invests $100bn to address chip shortage, where does that leave the rest of the industry? • The Register

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Analysis Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., also known as TSMC, plans to spend $100bn over the next three years in response to chip demand and has advised its customers to expect to pay more.

Word of the firm’s investment plan comes from Nikkei Asia, which claims to have seen a letter from TSMC CEO C.C. Wei outlining the investment plan. It follows closely on the heels of Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger outlining Intel’s foundry strategy and spending plans.

The demand for semiconductors reflects the lack of supply, which Falan Yinug, director of industry statistics and economic policy for the Semiconductor Industry Association, in February attributed to pandemic-related demand – IT purchases to support remote work – and the increased use of semiconductors in vehicles.

“The shortage is a reminder of the essential role semiconductors play in so many critical areas of society, including transportation,” said Yinug in a blog post. “This trend will only continue as demand for electronics and connectivity grows.”

The drought in Taiwan, where TSMC is based, hasn’t helped.

Yinug argued that the shortage should be addressed by more federal support for chip manufacturing in the US and attributed the declining US share of the global semiconductor market – from 37 percent in 1990 to 12 percent today – to foreign government subsidies of foreign competitors that have gone unanswered.

Micron Technology HQ in Boise, Idaho

Micron chief warns ‘severe shortage’ of DRAM expected to continue this year


A week later, the US-focused trade group sent a letter [PDF], signed by the CEOs of AMD, Intel, and other US chip makers, to US President Joe Biden asking for “substantial funding for incentives for semiconductor manufacturing.”

Biden on Wednesday rewarded the industry by asking Congress, as part of his American Rescue Plan, “to invest $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research, as called for in the bipartisan CHIPS Act.”

If Biden’s plan gets approved, chipmakers may also see a halo effect from adjacent spending contemplated under the economic stimulus program, like $20bn for regional innovation hubs and community revitalization, $14bn for NIST “to bring together industry, academia, and government to advance technologies and capabilities critical to future competitiveness,” and $50bn for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a technology directorate focused “on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies, and biotechnology.”

Another piece of US legislation proposed last year, the America Foundries Act of 2020, would offer as much as $25bn in grants to US states to fund fab facilities if it becomes law.

US chipmakers have already made comparable commitments, with Intel last month promising $20bn to build two new fabs in Arizona as a part of its planned foundry business.

But Intel will have competition there. Last year, in May, TSMC also tapped Arizona as the location of a planned $12bn semiconductor fab it plans to build. And Samsung Foundry as of January was casting about for government subsidies to build a new fab site in Arizona, New York, or Texas [PDF], a deal estimated to be worth $17bn and part of its plan to spend $116bn on its foundry and chip business over the next decade. Both projects aim to be operational in 2024.

The EU in March, as part of its Digital Compass plan, said it wants to double its chip output to 20 per cent of the global market by 2030. The following day, Apple, a TSMC customer, said it would invest over €1bn in a European chip design center based in Munich, Germany.

In November, trade group SEMI projected that the semiconductor industry will add 38 new 300mm fabs by 2024, and more recently forecast a surge in fab equipment spending.

According to a Congressional Research Service report published October 26, 2020, “Semiconductors: US Industry, Global Competition, and Federal Policy” [PDF], Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan accounted for two-thirds of the world’s semiconductor fabrication capacity in 2019, and China was responsible for 12 per cent of global fabrication.

The report notes that US legislators have become increasingly concerned about the concentration of chip manufacturing in East Asia and the implications that has on the semiconductor supply chains in the event of trade conflict or warfare.

The federal government appears to be ready to pay to shift the center of chip-making gravity to more accurately reflect US interests. But other countries and foreign competitors have their own ideas about where chips should be made. ®

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London is the best European city for founders, Startup Genome report

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The UK capital was the only European city to make the top ten in Startup Genome’s ranking, tying with New York in second place for the second year in a row.

London is Europe’s number one start-up city, according to a recent report by Startup Genome. The research and advisory body which specialises in start-ups released its ‘Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021’ report today (22 September).

The report identified London and New York as joint second-best cities in the world for start-ups. London was the only European location to make it into the top ten. The city is attractive to founders thanks to its educated workforce and tax incentives, the report found.

Silicon Valley in California took the top spot, unsurprisingly. This year’s global rankings were dominated by the US, with half of the top 30 ecosystems coming from this region, followed by Asia with 27pc and Europe with 17pc of the top performing ecosystems globally.

Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles alone contributed more than 70pc to the US’s total ecosystem value.

Paris made the top 20, coming in at number 12. The Amsterdam-Delta region followed in thirteenth place. Dublin improved its rank from the previous year’s report, coming in at number 36 this time.

Beijing, Boston, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Seattle and Stockholm also made the top ten best start-up cities.

The global start-up economy is currently worth more than $3.8trn in ecosystem value. There are 79 ecosystems generating over $4bn in value, which is more than double the number identified in 2017. This time last year, 91 ecosystems had achieved unicorn status.

Also in 2020, Startup Genome published a report indicating its concerns over the future of the start-ups ecosystem during Covid-19. The report suggested that 42pc of start-ups were in what it called ‘the red zone,’ meaning they had three months or fewer runway ahead of them.

Several countries  including the UK, France and Germany introduced special support packages for start-ups. Irish non-profit Scale Ireland also introduced a similar start-up scheme for Irish companies.

“Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in Europe have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all,” commented JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome on the report’s release.

“The Global Startup Ecosystem Report is the foundation of knowledge where we, as a global network, come together to identify what policies actually produce economic impact and in what context,” Gauthier added.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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