14 - 20 March 2001

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Melita Cable plans Lm30 million-plus digital interactive Hub
considering MSE floatation

By Nadine Brincat

Over the next three years, Melita Cable plc will invest between Lm30 million and Lm50 million in a project to set up a digital interactive Hub at its Madliena premises.

The sum, which will probably mark a larger investment than the Lm 39 million invested over the first 10 years of the company's existence, signals a new phase in the company's life cycle, dubbed the Next Generation by chairman Joe Gasan, who also said it was possible that the company would be floated on the Malta Stock Exchange.

Mr Gasan told the press that the project is set to improve the quality of the company's services, providing customers with a wider range of services including Digital interactive television, telephony, streaming video, information on demand and TV Internet.

"The Hub is a prime example of Melita Cable's philosophy, it has been in the pipeline for many years, with initial applications posted over two years ago," he said.

Mr Gasan also talked of Melita Cable's plans to raise funds, which, he admitted, included the likelihood of floating the company on the MSE.

"Until recently we did not have government clearance, but now we do," he said. "We will be taking on a large financial investment and we are looking at different options to raise the funds. We are very seriously considering the IPO, and floating some equity by enlisting shares on the market. However, we are not fully sure that this will be the road we shall choose, and we have not made a definite decision, nor have we a fixed date."
June 2001 marks the company's tenth year of operations as local cable service providers, which currently services 70 per cent of local households. Melita Cable's subsidiary -VOL - introduced Internet cable and invested in a new culture of customer care.

Mr Gasan expressed his confidence in the company's potential, emphasising that the Hub is part of Melita Cable's investment in the future.

"We plan to bring this new technology to Malta, not to be the local pioneers, but to improve the quality of life, with better communication, leisure and commerce interests which should benefit everyone," he stressed.

Melita Cable's chief executive, Frank Leiter, said the Hub marked the starting and termination optic of all fibre optic cable, which he considers to be the most efficient and durable way of transmitting signals.

The company - the largest fibre optic network in Malta - currently has fibre optic cables in all villages and is looking to increase the number of cables.

Melita Cable hopes to overcome the digital divide, by making digital services affordable and hence available to everyone, through the support of the government, the private sector and retailers.

"In this manner we hope to make Malta the first fully interactive country in the world in a matter of two to three years," Mr Leiter said.

He also said that due to legislative restrictions, the voice over Internet protocol cannot be activated yet, although the company has fibres in place in Valletta, Sliema and St Julian's, and is monitoring progress carefully. Although Melita Cable does not plan to offer the service yet, it will test the current system before Autumn. The service is set to be made available by January 2003, when the infrastructure work will be complete and when the company will also have the licence to offer telephony services.

"Since we are dealing with large scale deployment, we want to ensure that our services are fully prepared for the market, before we launch them," Mr Leiter said.

Although Melita Cable is unsure whether the telephony services it will offer will be traditional or VOIP, telephone prices are set to decrease substantially when the company will enter into competition with Maltacom, which has held the local monopoly in fixed line telephony.

Those attending yesterday's presentation witnessed Simon Montanaro streamed live from Madliena, giving a tour of the premises.

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