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Malta leads in broadband uptake, lags in competitiveness rankings

Robert Madelin (inset) believes Malta has yet to leverage the strong uptake of fast internet broadband in economic terms.

Robert Madelin (inset) believes Malta has yet to leverage the strong uptake of fast internet broadband in economic terms.

While Malta is in the leading pack of EU countries in terms of speed and uptake of fast broadband internet, the country loses some places in rankings in terms of how this uptake leads to competitiveness.

This is a big tragedy: unemployed people, clever people and empty posts

However the need to cater for the demand of high-skill ICT jobs is being tackled, according to Robert Madelin, the director-general for information society and the media in the European Commission.

“If you benchmark Malta against the rest of the world in terms of broadband connectivity, it’s right up there with the UK and US in terms of speed and uptake,” Mr Madelin told i-Tech during his visit to Malta last week. “But if you look at the competitiveness index, then you would have to say that Malta is more down to the level of Hungary and Portugal. What does that mean? The eSkills Alliance in Malta is putting its finger on exactly the right thing. Apart from the natural handicaps of geography, let’s leverage the population, let’s get the social and human capital ready for the digital age.”

The director-general expressed the willingness of the European Commission to support Malta through different initiatives, like the ‘cloud’, where a new partnership has been launched and web entrepreneurship, where an EU-wide network of such entrepreneurs is planned. He referred to the research and innovation agenda where the authorities are attempting to establish Maltese presence.

Mr Madelin explained the outcome of a meeting in Malta attended by the board of communications regulators in the EU.

“We had a sort of strategy seminar and it was quite interesting to listen to the national regulatory authorities of EU member states. My sense is that Malta is in the pack, probably towards the beginning of the pack in terms of the right issues, and pushing hard,” he said. “A message which came out of the discussion between the regulators, and which I very much agree with, is that we need more legal certainty. We don’t mean harmonisation but we get similar responses to similar signals across the whole of Europe. So the toolbox has to be more aligned than it is today. That’s the meaning of the proposal on cost methodology.”

Asked about content rights in the EU, which is affecting Maltese TV viewers like millions of others across Europe, Mr Madelin expounded on recent developments.

“First, there is the Court of Justice judgment which says very clearly that at the consumer end you are not breaking the law if you do things that the content owners wanted to prosecute you for,” he explained.

“The second thing which happened a few days ago is that the European Commissioners have finally woken up to the need to do more on this more quickly. The European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has been given a mandate, which is new . She is to work with her colleagues, especially commissioners Michel Barnier on intellectual property rights and Androulla Vassiliou on the cultural and creative media end, to try and work out precisely how to ensure that the territorial boundaries of the law do not get in the way of the borderless aspirations of the citizens.

“So have we fixed your problem? Not yet, but there has been progress. The judges are on your side and the Barroso 2 Commission is on your side.”

Another important issue in recent months was ACTA, the international agreement which was supported by the European Commission but rejected by the European Parliament. Here, too, there are developments.

“With ACTA, we have people feeling that the negotiators are not listening and that’s healthy,” Mr Madelin pointed out.

“I don’t know what will happen next in the area of enforcement, because this is the substance of ACTA. In Europe in recent days we launched a consultation on enforcement issues, including the ACTA-type issues around copyright. That’s an expression of the Commission’s for another round of listening.”

The Commission has announced that a structured stakeholder dialogue will be launched at the start of 2013 to work to address six issues where rapid progress is needed: cross-border portability of content, user-generated content, data- and text-mining, private copy levies, access to audiovisual works and cultural heritage.

The relevant market studies, impact assessment and legal drafting work will be completed with a view to a decision in 2014 on whether to table legislative reform proposals. All this must be viewed within the ambitious Digital Agenda 2020 objectives, which aims to reboot Europe’s economy and help Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies.

Mr Madelin underlines the successes made so far, but also pin-points where further progress is needed.

“I really believe in the last two years moved from only being understood by ICT insiders to society grasping that the Digital Agenda is the agenda for the future of Europe. So the vision is bought.

“On the hard end – the research, innovation, competitiveness and infrastructure – despite having gone through two of the most difficult economic years since the creation of the European Union, you can see investment and vision being sustained at a time when everything else is imploding.

“But still we are not getting what we want and that’s why the July 12 speech by Mrs Kroes inaugurates a year of action to readjust regulation. The first discussions were held in Malta between the national regulatory authorities and the Commission of the new recommendation that make that adjustment law,” Mr Madelin explained.

“However, the whole upskilling of society is a big problem. Why is it that in every country I visit across Europe web entrepreneurs are saying ‘I can’t fill the jobs, I can’t fill them quickly, I need more software people but I can’t find them’? This is a big tragedy: unemployed people, clever people and empty posts. We have to bridge that gap.”

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