22 MAY 2002

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ICT and the digital divide

Transport and Communications Minister Censu Galea commemorates World Telecommunications Day with an address overviewing the last decade of information and communication technology and Malta’s future role in the telecommunications revolution

In the past decade information and communication technology (ICT) has helped the world become more and more akin to a global village. Today most of us take for granted that we live in the information age – the technology era has resulted in a new world order - fifteen per cent of the earth's population provides nearly all of the world's technology innovations. Close to half of the world's population is able to adopt these technologies in production and consumption. The remaining thirty-five per cent of the world's population is largely technologically disconnected, neither innovating nor adopting foreign technologies.

The theme for this year’s World Telecommunication Day is aptly ICT for all – empowering people to cross the Digital Divide.

Unfortunately the explosion in information has not been matched by a similar increase in knowledge. The world has become smaller and regions have grown closer, but they do not necessarily understand one another any better than in the past. The uniformity of technology is accompanied by an implicit assumption that politics and culture will become one. But anyone who ignores differences in patterns of historical evolution is ignoring a basic fact that underpins society.

The Government of Malta has consistently demonstrated its commitment to invest intensively in cyber technology as illustrated by its efforts to establish an E-government network. Although technology knows no borders, the geographic and development strategy of a country are important when it comes to absorbing technology. Successful importers of technology tend to be located close to large markets, or on principal sea routes, or both.

Given that Malta is geographically proximate to one of the world's most dynamic zones of technological innovation, Europe, and is also at the centre of one of the world's busiest sea routes, the Mediterranean, Malta is very well placed to play a leading role in the information and communications revolution. This includes offering technology based services in different sectors including tourism and financial services and state-of-the-art research and development facilities for multinational technology firms that are seeking to expand their business in the Euro-Mediterranean area.

It is clear that Malta which possesses most of the comparative advantages required to attract such investment – relatively low cost and well educated English speaking specialists in numerous fields including computer science - should aggressively seek the attention of major operators around the world looking to re-locate.

Malta’s geographical location between Europe and North Africa positions it very well to act as an e-hubbing centre of activity for companies seeking to establish a foothold in regions adjacent to the Mediterranean. Boosting investment in telecoms networks and education are a necessary prerequisite to being able to compete against other countries seeking similar investment.

The advantages of liberalisation and its importance in making technology available to the masses has been very evident in Malta over the past year with significant increases in the mobile telephony and internet subscribers.

Official figures show that now, the number of mobile phone lines exceeded the number of fixed lines, and stands at over 232,000.

Internet subscriptions also sustained a steady growth of 50 per cent over the past year. We have also witnessed an increase in the number of broadband internet subscribers who have now exceeded the 10,000.

However, economic success requires a number of factors coming together at the same time. Deregulation must be coupled by a commitment at a regional level to allow for the free flow of people, products and capital. This is the driving force behind Malta’s determination to become a member of the European Union in the next enlargement.

As an EU member Malta will actively seek to promote access to ICT across the Mediterranean, where too many bottlenecks continue to hinder the creation of a common information and communication market. The result is that all those countries locked into this area find it difficult to implement innovative market oriented policies that are a prerequisite to sustained economic growth.

The lack of regional financial and telecommunications trans-Mediterranean infrastructure investment on a significant scale, is not conclusive enough to

sustain its competitiveness in the new world economy. As a European Union member Malta will be well placed to advance the goal of seeking to empower people in the Mediterranean area to cross the digital divide that continues to exist.

Our Government is committed to establishing Malta as a dynamic economic country that takes advantage of cyber-technology to advance its people’s creativity and obtain prosperity from the rest of the world.

The most fundamental factor that will guarantee success in the information age is education. Telecommunications on their own will not help a country thrive unless the people are able to use such technology effectively. The younger generation in Malta is already showing signs of being adventurous when it comes to technology related products and services. They are also prepared to interact with other cultures rather than accept stereotypes. This augurs well for the creation of a borderless information and communication technology society.


Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt