10 – 18 January 2001

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Good sales for satellite business
But dealers fear bureaucracy still hinders sales

By Ray Abdilla

Satellite dealers have once again slammed the government over applications for permits to the Planning Authority for installing digital dishes. The dealers, who are boasting good Christmas sales, claim that this goes against the concept of free trade and gives an unfair advantage to Melita Cable Television.

They argue that applications for permits to any organisation, in Malta’s case the Planning Authority, go against the European Union criteria.

Some businessmen who sell satellite dishes have asked to meet government officials to thrash out the issue, but have not yet had an answer.

"Now it looks like the Planning Authority is hardening its stand on mounting satellite dishes in various households, entertainment and business entities," one leading businessman told The Business Times.

According to one of the retail outlets, around 22 per cent of households in Malta have now installed a dish. Although almost 60 per cent of people have cable television, it is a fact that around 15 per cent of people own both as local stations are not transmitted by satellite digital.

Some 20 per cent of people still rely solely on aerial to watch television programmes, but this percentage is likely to dwindle in the next few years.

Satellite dealers also reported a good sale of dishes during the Christmas period, with telecommunications listed as the number one selling item in Malta.

But some consumers are still reluctant to buy a satellite dish because of the Lm25 yearly licence and the hassle for permits from the Planning Authority. If a satellite dish is larger than 1.2 meters a Planning Authority permit is required, if it is below that mark a General Development Order from the Planning Authority is needed.

Businessmen in the satellite digital sector also want to speak to the authorities about the permits needed by the Police Commissioner to remove a satellite dish from one place to another in the same household.

Some businessmen would like to see the government remove all permits in the next budget as they feel that with Malta on the brink of European Union membership, all barriers in telecommunications, including licences, should be removed.

This time last year the Maltese police authorities conducted raids on commercial establishments and private residences over dishes, and businessmen are expecting a similar occurrence this year.

The internationally-known channel, which is owned by Telepiù SpA of Italy, a member of the Canal Plus Group, the largest provider of pay-TV services in Europe, whose stations are widely watched in Malta, both through cable and satellite, had put pressure on Melita Cable to protest with the police about digital pirating.

Dr Davide Rossi, Telepiù's an anti-piracy specialist who was in Malta last year, is said to still praise the Maltese police for their actions against distributors of pirate cards for satellite systems.

In fact Dr Rossi would like this to happen in Italy as well. Dr Rossi has co-ordinated Tele + anti-piracy actions all over Italy – recently more successful arrests were Catania.

Last year the police raided six establishments and over a dozen private residences after they received information on alleged combinations of both distribution and piracy of such material.

The sources estimated that over 80 per cent of retail outlets in Malta were selling pirate cards. Some businessmen were even fined or given a suspended sentence by court.

Sources say that the Italian company has provided local authorities with information on the illicit business taking place and it would continue to put pressure on local authorities to ensure that the market would become more legitimate.

A satellite dealer told The Business Times that if this happens again, all local dealers would unite and apply themselves for a permit for running a cable network in Malta.

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