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Malta among ‘fastest growing’ digital economies in the EU

The latest edition of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DEIS) 2016 published by the European Commission is good news for Malta and mainly positive for the rest of the members, despite the slow progress being registered over the previous year.

The European Commission included Malta together with The Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, Austria and Portugal as being “the fastest growing countries” and described them as “running ahead”.

Malta was placed 11th overall among 28 member states, with a strong deployment and take-up of fast broadband internet and registering progress in almost all indicators.

All 28 countries except Sweden improved on their score in the index, with the Scandinavian countries and The Netherlands retaining their top positions. They compared well to other world leaders in the digital field such as Japan, South Korea and the US but on average the EU countries still have to work hard for a prominent place on this global stage.

The EU is well on target to provide complete broadband coverage by 2020. However, 45 per cent of Europeans still don’t have digital skills. While 65 per cent of European internet users shop online, only 16 per cent of SMEs sell online and only a small percentage cross-border. More public services are accessible online but they are still underused. True, the figures make good reading for Malta but these need to be understood to see where the country is performing and where it has potential to do even better. Malta’s particular geographic and demographic characteristics on the periphery of Europe remain both its strength and the perennial Achilles Heel in terms of the impact of digital technology on the economy and society.

The percentage of Maltese making use of internet is below the EU average

The continued significant investment in fixed broadband internet is paying off as Malta is ranked among the best in terms of national coverage, and here’s an instance where the size works strongly in our favour. However, Malta still has to make an effort in the harmonisation of frequencies (spectrum) and the take-up of 4G mobile data. An explanation for the latter may be that there are no long commutes in Malta like in other countries.

Malta moved up two notches in terms of human capital, but there’s still some work to do in this area. The percentage of Maltese making use of internet is below the EU average. The number of graduates in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is below the EU average but the percentage of ICT specialists in the workforce is above average, confirming Malta’s success in attracting players in the ICT industry and sectors such as i-gaming that rely heavily on technology.

Reading the news, listening to music, watching videos, playing games and communication are the most favourite activities of the Maltese on the internet, who are ranked 11th in terms of overall usage. However, the Maltese are not too keen on video on demand.

In the commercial sector, Malta has a mixed score, with very high ranking in cros- border online selling and the use of RFID and social media, but very low in terms of the use of e-invoices, e-commerce turnover and information sharing. Cross-border trading in Malta can be explained in view of Malta’s very small internal market.

In terms of digital public services, Malta retains the number one spot, and also retains the second spot in terms of pre-filled forms. Unfortunately, the number of e-government users pushes Malta back to the 18th place, and access to open data even further back to the 26th spot.

Most of the strengths and weaknesses of the Maltese digital economy and society have been identified in the Digital Malta 2014-2020 strategy adopted by the government and currently being implemented by the Malta Communications Authority and the Malta Information Technology Agency. Indeed, the efforts to improve Malta’s ranking is clearly charted in this strategy and resulting specialised actions like the National eCommerce Strategy 2014-2020 and initiatives such as coding skills, digital skills and Malta’s offering as a test-bed for satellite and mobile communication technologies.

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