The ICT year in review
This year had its fair share of developments in the local information and communication technology scene. While statistics confirm Malta’s unrelenting transformation into a truly digital society, there were singular events worth highlighting.
Robert Madelin, the director-general for information society and the media in the European Commission, said Malta is in the leading pack of EU countries in terms of speed and uptake of fast broadband internet, but it loses some places in rankings in terms of how this uptake leads to competitiveness. However, the need to cater for the demand of high-skill ICT jobs is being tackled.
There was the controversy surrounding ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, in the first weeks of the year. Millions of people around the world, including Malta, protested in the streets and online against the agreement which they said was in violation of their digital liberties. The Government signed ACTA before the controversy erupted, but when Maltese internet users marchedin protest in Valletta it promised a review of digital rights.
In October, the Maltese were called to give their feedback on new digital rights to be entrenched into the Maltese Constitution to reflect today’s digital lifestyle. These include the right to internet access with no threats from authorities and service providers to have access curtailed, the right to access information and services online, and the right to limit how much personal information is given to third parties online. The consultation ended in November.
In February, the Government launched a call for expressions of interest to set up the infrastructure for ‘next-generation’ broadband services in the country. The IT Ministry said it aimed to equip Malta with a fibre-to-the-home network. This involves a fibre-based technology that connects homes or businesses directly to the local exchange. The technology provides for faster connection speeds and carrying capacity. Several companies expressed their interest but there have been no announcements since.
Melita and Go launched high-speed broadband services, while Vodafone stopped selling new WiMax wireless broadband services after a dismal take-up in the last few years. It seems the Maltese prefer 3G mobile services on their smartphones and tablets and fixed-line access over ADSL and cable internet.
The Maltese pursued the adoption of the latest smartphone and tablets, with supply for the Apple iPhone 5 outstripping demand locally.
According to a survey commissioned by the Malta Communications Authority, only 23 per cent of Maltese businesses are selling to individual consumers online. However, business-to-business online transactions seem to have taken off and are the norm in some sectors.
In terms of TV, Melita and Go registered increased custom of digital TV services, with Melita enhancing its video on demand service and expanding its list of high-definition channels.
The opening of the Microsoft Innovation Centre scheduled for 2012 has slipped to early next year. In the meantime Microsoft launched Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 operating systems locally to a lukewarm reception.
Cloud computing continued to advance in Malta during 2012 with more offerings from the local providers and more services ‘in the cloud’.
A survey published in September on the use of ICT by children shows increased sophistication in the use of technology, but also raises questions on the misuse and potential dangers for minors. While 97 per cent of primary schoolchildren and 99 per cent of secondary schoolchildren have internet access at home and the use of mobiles and tablets is clear, the use of social networking is on the rise even among the very young, sometimes with their parents’ consent. The survey was conducted by the MCA and more initiatives that promote better use of technology by children were initiated, including the extension of the Be Smart Online project. The MCA also promoted ICT among small businesses and among senior citizens.
A new hub for digital games was the major announcement related to ICT in the Budget for 2013. Compared to previous speeches, there was little reference to major ICT-related initiatives except for digital gaming, revealing a ‘steady as she goes’ attitude by the Government. However, this was futile as the Budget was defeated on December 10 and general elections were called for March 9.
There was a very significant IT miss related to the elections. An important aspect of any election is the identification of voters. A new ID card system, which would have provided both a physical card and an electronic identity to access electronic services, had to be rolled out by mid-2012 according to former MITA chairman Claudio Grech in an interview with i-Tech in 2011. This did not happen and Mr Grech resigned from the post early in 2012 to stand as a PN candidate in the general election.
The unofficial electoral campaign and exciting political developments were ever present on internet, especially social media, throughout the year. The political parties sought to exploit the new means of communication, especially social media, with the PN launching its mychoice.pn initiative. But given its characteristics, politicians like Franco Debono and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando ably used it as a platform, completely bypassing the traditional media that was hostile to them.