19 July 2006

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Business Today

Maltacom’s TV rollout still on track – MCA

Matthew Vella

Plans for Maltacom’s rollout for digital TV broadcasting (DTTV) appear “unchanged”, Malta Communications Authority chairman Joseph V. Tabone said yesterday, as the telecoms company is expected to achieve nationwide coverage within four months.
Maltacom was assigned a DTTV frequency back in May 2005, along with Multiplus, on condition it would achieve nationwide coverage of transmissions within 18 months from that date.
Asked about the state of play over Maltacom’s commitments, Tabone said a meeting held in recent weeks showed that Maltacom’s plans look unchanged as the deadline date approaches.
“We’ll see it is complied with,” Tabone said, who added there had been no request by Maltacom to prolong its delivery commitments beyond November 2006.
It appears certain plans would have been put on hold but the telecoms company has still shown the communications regulator it intends to proceed as planned. “So far we’ve been in the process of coordinating frequencies,” Tabone said. “But Maltacom’s plans look unchanged as far as I’m concerned.”
Yesterday, the MCA published its annual report and financial statements for 2005, following a change to its fiscal year-end on 31 December, rather than on 30 September. The authority’s fifteen-month statement reported a Lm5 million upturn in revenues owing to upfront fees collected from Vodafone and Go Mobile for the right of use of 3G technology. The operators have until 2010 to complete their network rollout and achieve complete national coverage.
Last year, the MCA took over the functions of the former Wireless Telegraphy Department to carry out the deployment of third generation technology, digital TV, and broadband wireless access.
“This has been an extraordinarily challenging year for the authority… at the start-up of the authority we thought that the run-up to liberalisation would be the toughest, however the past year has taught us that post-liberalisation is even more difficult to manage,” Tabone said. “Achieving the desired outcomes has not been easy.”
The MCA is the national regulator for telecoms, postal services and e-commerce. In the past year it was also involved in assessing consumer perceptions on the postal service since its privatisation brought with it the demise of same-day delivery.
The authority was also involved in the procurement of interception equipment which internet service providers had to put at the disposal of the Malta Security Service. The system is expected to be in operation later on this year. Service providers will have to contribute a proportionate amount, based on their turnover, towards funding the system which will allow the Security Service to intercept electronic communication.
Tabone said in his introduction to the financial statements that the authority’s capacity had been tested in the past year in its bid to involve itself as much as possible in international fora, lamenting that there are too many of these for the MCA to cover adequately. Referring to criticism of the authority’s travel expenditure, Tabone said this was no “capricious indulgence… We do not exist as a regulatory island but function in the reality of a broader context – European at one level, Commonwealth or Mediterranean at other levels and ultimately global.”
Over the six years to 2005, the communications industry has contributed a stable 3 per cent to the gross domestic product, with the average wage in the industry being 32 per cent higher than that earned in the Maltese economy in general.
Last year, voice-over internet protocol (VoIP), which enabled cheaper international calls by connecting over the Internet, reaching a staggering 31 million minutes. However, fixed line telephony remains the most highly used form of communication, with 797 million minutes during 2005.
Mobile telephony however continued to increase its coverage with over 323,000 users by December 2005 – a penetration rate of 81 per cent. A massive 450 million SMSs were sent during 2005, which the MCA said was a record on a per capita basis throughout EU member states.
Broadband connections exceeded 50,000 during 2005, a growth of 33 per cent over the previous year, a slightly higher growth than the EU average, and well over that of new EU entrants.


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