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Regulator’s former chairman hopes to ‘export’ experience

Philip Micallef has resigned as executive chairman of the MCA after he accepted a new role in Bermuda.

Philip Micallef has resigned as executive chairman of the MCA after he accepted a new role in Bermuda.

The resilience in Malta’s international internet connectivity, better protection to communication services customers, the transposition of the EU telecoms framework onto Maltese legislation and better engagement with local operators are some of the highlights of the work carried out by the Malta Communications Authority under the executive chairmanship of Philip Micallef.

The economic benefits of fibre-to-the-home maybe higher than for other parts of Europe

Mr Micallef recently left the post – and Malta – after five years to take up the challenging task of launching a communications regulatory authority in Bermuda. This will be another stint abroad, after working for Olivetti and Orange in France. Before his departure, he told i-Tech about his experience at the helm of an authority that presided over one of the most exciting and perhaps challenging periods in the development of the Maltese communications sector.

“My contract was coming to an end in February-March and it was time to move,” he explained. “I was appointed directly, and we all know that the minister who appointed me will no longer be there, whatever happens. I thought it would not be fair to impose myself on whoever occupies the post and also an opportunity arose in Bermuda to establish a telecoms regulatory authority from scratch.

“It is a fantastic challenge as Bermuda is in the same situation Malta was in 10 years ago. The Maltese model has been successful and it would be an honour for Malta to export it.”

Over the past five years, the MCA engaged in several important initiatives within a framework of a communications industry expanding in terms of users, operators, quality and number of services.

Mr Micallef lists some of these initiatives when asked about the heritage he leaves behind.

“It is not only my heritage, it’s the effort of MCA which is a team that continued to grow over the years. One of the things that I am very proud of is the resiliency legislation that we made for the international cables. When I first joined one of the cables fell and I realised the economic havoc this causes to a small island like Malta. This was a piece of legislation that we managed to push through even though the EU asked why this was needed since there was competition.

“Another landmark has been venturing into customer care. There is a long, long way to go but we started on the right track and identified areas which needed attention, like the difficulties associated in switching internet service provider and contracts.

“Another area I am proud of is the European Telecoms Framework – Malta was among the first to transpose into local legislation. This was very positive and gave the right signal. We built a name for ourselves in the body of European regulators and the EU. Malta is very well respected there.

“The digital switchover in 2011 was a good challenge as I had to deal with local broadcasters and it’s not easy to deal with.”

Apart from distinct initiatives, Mr Micallef spoke with pride about his efforts to instil better relations with operators and stakeholders.

“We couldn’t sit in our ivory tower, read the books and regulate without talking to them. We can disagree, but at least we understand each other’s point of view. I likened our role to a referee’s. We had our ups and downs, and at times we had to be tough, but it was for the good of the sector and customers in the long run.”

Mr Micallef left the MCA at a time of new developments in the local communications sector and these will bring both opportunities and challenges.

“There are two main challenges. One is in the mobile sector with the deployment of LTE (long term evolution) in Malta. I would have seen the MCA taking a pro-active role, not in just making the frequencies available (which they already are) but in terms of sustainability. We already have had talks about the role of MCA as a facilitator for sharing things like radio network access, sharing of masts and other resources which cost money. We will have LTE and it’s a question of ‘when’.

“The other area is fibre-to-the-home. There we have been very, very active with the Government, trying to strike balance between what needs to be done and our regulatory role. Although things seem not to have moved, things are moving there. There will be no surprises. The submissions following a request for expressions of interest were very good and all three local operators submitted, together with international companies. The key here is to try to minimise cost and have as fast a rollout as possible and as a project is similar to the passing of the first electricity cables in the 19th century. It depends on the applications that will be used and the demand for bandwidth such as with e-commerce and e-learning. As an island and on the periphery of Europe, the economic benefits are maybe higher than for other parts of Europe.”

Mr Micallef said he would have liked to see the fibre-to-the-home project develop much quicker and the issue of frequency interference with Italy solved, with only “feeble support from ITU and the EU” to Malta on the issue.

And now with the election in a few weeks’ time, Mr Micallef is positive the MCA has a bright future whatever the outcome.

“MCA has been a very good model. I hope that whatever happens politically, things will remain on the right course. MCA has never been controversial, unlike Mepa for example, and we never had any problems with either the Government or the Opposition. I would also like to see the operators work together a little bit more.”

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