Malta 2016: The Malta Communications Authority
Interview with Dr. Edward Woods, Chairman, The Malta Communications Authority
PRISMA GROUP: a) In our interviews this week, both the Minister for the Economy, The Hon. Dr. Christian Cardona, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon. Dr. George Vella, highly recommended us to meet with you. The ministers emphasized that the dynamically developing ICT industry plays a crucial role in Malta’s economic success story. The sector does not only employ more than 6,000 full timers on its own, it is also an important prerequisite for the evolvement of a range of industries, such Malta’s strong financial services or e-gaming sector.
As the Chairman of the Malta Communications Authority you are at the very forefront of this vital industry. Could you please give our readers of DER SPIEGEL an overview over the wide range of activities of your organization and what are the topics that are high on your agenda at the moment?
Dr. Edward Woods: 1. Authority’s primary raison d’etre was that of being a regulatory entity for electronic communications, postal and eCommerce services (Refer to EU 2020 targets). Over time, this role evolved into one that also includes the promotional aspect, stimulating demand in terms of promoting uptake with the general public, especially disadvantaged users, as well as uptake amongst the business community.
2. Promoting free WiFi as a stepping stone to take up mobile broadband services.
3. Also branching out into promoting innovation and business uptake of service – still in the early stages but have developed the function.
4. Development of eCommerce services.
5. Strategy launched last year with a raft of initiatives tied to that strategy amongst which a directory – BLINK, a directory of service providers who can assist the business community in setting up eCommerce platforms. That serves to broker, as a meeting point for the two key elements involved.
6. On the regulatory front –competition, consumer affairs/protection, the regulation and management of radio spectrum.
7. Exploitation of space assets
8. Submarine cable
PRISMA GROUP: What can you tell our readers about DIGITAL MALTA, the National Digital Strategy 2014 - 2020, and about how the Malta Communications Authority is supporting the government in its aim of transforming Malta into a leading digital economy?EW: Over the past two years the electronic communications sector in Malta has continued to experience increased broadband penetration, strong price competition (particularly in the mobile market), and higher take-up of mobile and fixed broadband data services. Operators have continued to upgrade their networks and remain well-positioned to roll-out innovative products and services to the benefit of consumers and businesses. In addition to the availability of a 100 Mbps fixed broadband service on a nationwide basis, Melita also offers a 250 Mbps fixed broadband service and access to high-speed mobile data based on Wi-Fi in an increasing number of localities. In 2014 Melita also opened a new data centre and launched its ‘TV everywhere’ package, allowing its customers to access TV content on tablets or smartphones via its WiFi connection. GO also launched a similar package – ‘TV anywhere’. Following initial deployment of Fibre-to-the-Home in selected pilot areas up to 2014, in 2015 GO announced that it is proceeding to invest substantially in the roll-out of its Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, which will contribute to increased competition in the broadband markets. GO is also expected to launch its LTE broadband network later on this year. On its part, Vodafone (Malta) launched its 4G service at the end of 2013 with coverage approaching 70% of the population by the end of 2014. In 2014, ICT activities generated a gross value added of 448.86 mio Euros; contributing 6.5% to the total economy GVA.
SUPPORTING GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES
Digital Malta Strategy: During 2013 the MCA, jointly with the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA), developed a new national strategy aimed at advancing ICTs throughout society and the economy as a whole. The strategy is aimed at helping Malta to achieve the Digital Agenda for Europe targets. The strategy was formally launched in March 2014. A governing body, representing the primary stakeholders was also established. The governing body is responsible to oversee the implementation of the Strategy and ensure the necessary commitment, engagement and collaboration of all stakeholders, oversee progress, approve a programme of initiatives and keep the strategy valid and up-to-date.
A study to investigate the feasibility of laying a new submarine cable: In 2014 the MCA published a tender document as part of its plans to undertake a detailed technical, economic and financial feasibility analysis for a new submarine cable link that will connect Malta to other alternative locations, in order to increase resiliency and, among others, render Malta more attractive as a place for doing business. The study was commissioned in 2015 and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The study will be financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Development of a direction on a National cloud computing strategy:In the second half of 2013, the MCA carried out a high-level preliminary study to explore the benefits, challenges, opportunities, economic drivers and competitive factors for establishing Malta as a hub for the provision of cloud computing services with the objective of boosting innovation and productivity across the digital economy. The high-level study explored the areas related to environment, tax, innovation and talent, as well as the regulatory and legal settings that are likely to encourage cloud computing providers to establish their presence in Malta. The MCA is currently working on the next phase of the project as part of its function to facilitate innovation in the communications sector. The MCA is working on establishing a three tier model to undertake the recommendations outlined in the cloud computing study.
Space communications services: In 2014 Government decided to give emphasis to the development of the satellite communications sector and make available the ITU-allotted orbital slots to the market, through an international competitive process. In November 2014 the MCA was tasked with overseeing this process and issued a public call to gauge the level of interest amongst interested parties in exploiting these space assets through commercial activities that would benefit the local economy, whilst placing Malta on the global satellite transmission map. The outcome of this process highlighted the difficulties anticipated by the industry in coordinating wider coverage for Malta’s space assets. The process also served to bring Malta’s interest in developing this sector to the attention of the satellite community.
As a result, the MCA will this year be launching a number of initiatives aimed at targeting specific activities in the satellite sector with the aim of attracting interested international entities to Malta’s shores. These initiatives focus on the provision of facilities for the registration of new satellites with the ITU, as well as processes which facilitate the establishment and operation of satellite earth stations in Malta. In addition, the MCA has been entrusted with representation of Malta’s interest on Galileo activities specifically related to supporting local industry and academia participating in Galileo with a focus on PRS Pilot Projects. As a continuation to previous activities, the objective of MCA’s involvement in Galileo is to involve the industry and academia with the aim of providing input into the following aspects of the pilot projects by consolidating the pilot project activities and widening its scope by involving different stakeholders and fostering academia-industry relationships.
PRISMA GROUP: As the Minister for the Economy, The Hon. Dr. Cardona, pointed out, its strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean makes Malta a natural bridge between Europe and Africa and gives the country in many ways a key role in bringing the continents closer together – politically and economically. Looking at the ICT industry, in what way do you perceive Malta’s geographic position as a competitive advantage?EW: The Maltese communications sector has made significant strides over the past years in bringing the widespread availability of high-quality and high-speed products and services of the latest technology to the market. Whilst such progress is important because of its significantly positive impact on social and economic development, it is also equally important to ensure that every individual has the necessary skills to engage effectively with the digital economy, on both a personal and professional level. The take-up of such products and services is certainly encouraging, however Malta still lags behind other European countries with regard technology usage, particularly amongst older generations (in 2014 25% of the Maltese people never used the internet vs. 18% in the EU).
Not having the skills to participate in an increasingly digital society, or appreciate the benefits that technology can offer, will alienate these individuals from a number of social activities. Professionally individuals will likely experience a lack of job mobility as more and more business sectors are harnessing technology in their daily operations. In order to address this the MCA has, during the past two years, dedicated significant effort to the implementation of a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the digital divide by bringing individuals closer to technology.
The MCA’s success in applying for approximately €450,000 from the European Social Fund meant that it could embark on an extensive information campaign on the benefits of technology. The MCA has also provided in excess of 60,000 hours of training, in several levels of ICT skilling, to different niches of society and to individuals having varying levels of capacities and competencies.
PRISMA GROUP: Important Points - How does the MCA maintain sustainable growth in the ICT sector?EW: a. Facilitating entry to the market.
b. Ensuring that the right conditions prevail for continued investment in the sector.
c. Ensuring that the regulatory framework is conducive to technological advancements and acts as facilitator to new businesses.
d. That Malta has the right value proposition that is attractive to foreign investors (international connectivity, test and trial schemes, etc)
e. Ensures that both private individuals and the business community recognise the full potential of ICT and actively engage in a digital economy.
f. Keeps up with technological advancements and identifies niches that offer the most potential to the local economy.
PRISMA GROUP: Important Points - How can ICT encourage competition, investment and innovation in other sectors such as tourism and hospitality?EW: a. Essentially other sectors can become more competitive by integrating ICT systems and solutions.
b. Increased reach to other markets
c. Keep up with current digital trends, thus retaining competitve edge
d. More open channels of communication with customers, making for better consumer relations etc.
PRISMA GROUP: According to your webpage one of your authority’s strategic objectives is facilitating innovation and investment in ICTs. What channels does your agency use to boost investment in the ICT sector an encouraging innovation?EW.: Business and Innovation Development Function - During 2014, the MCA developed a new function which complements the Authority’s overall mission and objectives by focusing on the development and promotion of Malta as a vibrant business destination for communications innovation. The MCA is looking at supporting home-grown innovation and entrepreneurship, by focusing its efforts on stimulating and encouraging business ventures that capitalise on the disruptive nature of ICT. The MCA is also focusing on promoting Malta and its technology readiness in order to attract more businesses to its shores, in particular those that are geared to operate in a convergent European and Global communications market.
In 2014, the MCA set up an Innovation Observatory through which information from local and international sources is compiled, curated and disseminated to members of the stakeholder network. In December 2014 the MCA published a report that focuses on the economic opportunities for Malta resulting from disruptions hitting content distribution within the digital single market. In addition, the MCA financially supported a research project that is aimed at developing a low noise amplifier to support the novel, low-cost Ultra wideband Antenna project.
In its drive to facilitate and support home-grown innovation in communications, particularly those aiming to operate beyond the local market, in 2014 the MCA in collaboration with the TAKEOFF incubation centre within the University of Malta launched a competitive seed funding opportunity – the MCA TAKEOFF Award. Thirteen very interesting start-up ideas competed for this funding. The winner, InboundMuse, was presented with seed funding nearing €20,000 during a certification ceremony held in January 2015.
A stakeholder network was setup to provoke and facilitate dialogue on innovation in communications. The first stakeholder network meeting was held in January 2015 and focused on EU funded opportunities for collaborative R&I projects in the field of digital communications. Also in January 2015, the MCA held its first expert meeting which focused on content distribution within the digital single market and looked into the economic opportunities for Malta in this regard.
The MCA has also been actively represented at International events offering opportunities to secure better awareness about the Maltese economy and to enable potential investments to be pursued. A fact-sheet promoting Malta as a home for communications businesses was developed and distributed in a number of both local and foreign events. On the local front, the MCA works closely with Malta Enterprise to consolidate efforts in attracting further investment to Malta. Strengthening capacity and expertise in innovation in communications remains an immediate priority for the MCA. A study will be undertaken to identify and map out value chains and support requirements that will sustain future economic activity in this sector. Efforts are also being invested in maximizing on synergies with relevant stakeholders and creating a more robust collaborative framework for intelligence sharing, joint projects and initiatives. To this effect, MoUs with the University of Malta and MCAST are envisaged to be finalized by the end of 2015. A milestone initiative planned for this year is the organisation of a conference by the MCA about start-ups which explores this phenomenon and its local implications from business, policy and investor perspectives.
PRISMA GROUP: You will convey with us that Germany can make an invaluable contribution to the realization of Malta’s goals, at all levels. With regards to your agency’s portfolio, how do you assess the cooperation on a governmental level but also the partnerships and investments in the private sector that involve German companies? What scope do you see for greater German involvement in Malta’s ICT sector?EW.: Malta is a sovereign, micro-state (not city) and a member of the EU with the euro as its currency. ICT, e-Commerce, Media and Internet Law have evolved rapidly in Malta over the past years and now constitute an integral part of the local economy. The Maltese Government is focused on developing Malta into a high-income economy and in these last years, invested heavily in the ICT sector as a platform for inward investment.
We have secured the right competitive environment for continued, indeed aggressive private investment in our communications networks supporting rapid growth and development across all other economic sectors. The latest Digital Agenda Scoreboard published by the European Commission once again ranks Malta first, among the 28 EU member states, in next generation broadband network coverage.
We do not afford to sit on our laurels. We are constantly faced with accelerating technological change that requires, not only investment in new equipment and network components, but which is necessitating a review of our policy frameworks and our human resource competency to ensure that we have adequate capacity to respond timely and efficiently amidst competing national priorities.