6 - 12 December 2000

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ISPs reach synergetic agreement
new access rates 76 times faster than at present

By David Lindsay

In a bid to counteract what is believed to be an unlevelled playing field in the sector of Internet Service Provision, a group of local ISPs have banded together to share resources and provide their customers with speedier and more efficient Internet connections.

The group of nine ISPs (comprising Terranet, Waldonet, Kemmunet, Globalnet, Comtel, Fastnet, Telemail, Nextgen and Keyworld) have reached a high speed interconnection agreement between themselves, in order for their clients to access each other’s content, caches and exchange traffic at high speeds.

Addressing a press conference held yesterday to announce the initiative, Waldonet General Manager and local ISP spokesperson David Thake explained that Malta is privy to high Internet penetration rates - comparable to that of Germany while placing over and above those of France, Italy and Spain. Mr Thake emphasises that such figures have been achieved through hard work carried out by ISPs in the highly competitive arena – without the benefit of any support from the government.

Punctuating this point, Mr Thake explained that recent developments have highlighted the fact that the government intends to continue stifling the sector by introducing regulations that have seen increased licence fees and the granting of permission for Melita Cable to practise business in a monopolistic fashion. More recently, the government had granted MITTS what was labelled a discriminatory waiver from the regulations that all other ISPs are obliged to obey.

The initiative, which is expected to enhance Internet performance by some 76 times over that provided for by the current backbone, came into effect yesterday for subscribers to participating ISPs. Apart from sharing the costs of implementing the new backbone, the ISPs have also agreed to share resources such as news groups and to cache common content.

Mr Thake adds, "However, the principle of doing all this on a goodwill basis has now been put aside, until we are certain that there is a level playing field and that everybody in the market is acting in good faith.

"We have decided that, as of today, there will be interconnection rates between us [much like those between Vodafone and go mobile]. Anyone who would like to peer with other ISPs over the backbone needs to pay interconnection charges to those [collective] ISPs."

Meanwhile, subscribers to non-participating ISPs will, of course, still have access to the same content, but only over international links, which result in slower access.

The ISPs’ pending issue with Melita Cable is still of the utmost concern, as the group is adamant that Melita Cable does constitute a monopoly and should accordingly sell local ISPs access to its high-speed cable infrastructure. Speakers at the conference emphasised that, despite repeated calls to the office of the telecommunications regulator to intervene on the issue in the better interest of the end consumer and of fair competition, no reply has been forthcoming.

"It is not enough to call the authority a competent authority. Competence needs to be demonstrated by concrete and transparent action. If we are wrong, then the competent authority needs to explain why it thinks so," Mr Thake commented.

Other ISP heads at the conference noted that there were reservations even in Brussels over the effectiveness and independence of the competent authority, adding that they have been informed that EU officials are keeping a close eye on proceedings as they develop.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt