Updated | Malta should aim to have one of world's fastest Internet speeds, PN MP says

Opposition MP Claudio Grech urges government to invest in Malta's technological infrastructure, so that ISPs will be able to offer download speeds as strong as 1GBps, minister Manuel Mallia says proposed overahul of gaming laws will soon be presented to Cabinet

Opposition MP Claudio Grech said that Malta should target internet download speeds as high as 1GBps
Opposition MP Claudio Grech said that Malta should target internet download speeds as high as 1GBps

Shadow economy minister Claudio Grech has urged the government to invest heavily in Malta’s technological infrastructure, so that the country will be able to boast one of the fastest Internet speeds in the world.

Addressing a parliamentary debate on the 2017 budget for the competitiveness ministry, Grech said that Malta must aspire to offer download speeds as strong as one gigabyte per second, which would be double that of the fastest download speed (500MBps) currently on offer.

“We aren’t being visionary enough on how to invest in and upgrade our local infrastructure, which will after all boost our economy,” he said, adding that he will pressure the PN to adopt such a policy.

“The government must not leave such investment solely to the private sector, but should play an active role to upgrade our technological infrastructure.”

Grech hailed the government’s plans –announced in the 2017 Budget - to connect a submarine cable to Marseille, arguing that Malta must diversify its telecommunications routes.

“If Malta is to become a digital hub, then we must diversify our telecommunications routes,” he said. “All Malta’s submarine cables pass through a single Internet exchange in Sicily, rendering the entire economy at risk of a single point of failure.”

In response, competiveness minister Manuel Mallia said that the government fully understands the need for Malta’s Internet velocity and technological infrastructure to improve.

“Malta’s economic environment must continue to facilitate an ever-increasing Internet velocity to meet the ambitious targets for the digital economy, that will lead to more innovation, create more quality jobs and render the country more competitive,” he said.

Mallia added that Internet of 30MBps is now available in every corner of Malta and Gozo, compared to the EU average of 68%, and that GO is currently rolling out Fibre-To-The-Home scheme across the island, that offers download speeds of up to 500MBps .

Moreover, he said that the government wants free Wi-FI to be available in every public space, and that it plans to install 35 WI-FI hotspots before the end of the year – bringing the total number of hotspots in the country up to 300.

Competitiveness minister Manuel Mallia delivers a speech in Parliament
Competitiveness minister Manuel Mallia delivers a speech in Parliament

Updated gaming legislation ‘at an advanced stage’

Manuel Mallia also confirmed that discussions on a major update to Malta’s gaming legislation are “at advanced stages” and that a draft law will soon be presented to Cabinet before being issued for public consultation.

“The Malta Gaming Authority wants to create more synergy between laws on land-based and remote gaming, and has evaluated all the country’s gaming laws to find out whether the industry can be regulated in a more practical and relevant manner,” Mallia said. “The plan is to address every shortcoming in the current gaming legislation, and to ensure that the MGA is in the best possible position to fulfill its duty as a regulator. An economic impact assessment will also be carried out to assess the ripple-effects that the proposed changes will have on the Maltese economy.”

Opposition MP Kristy Debono called for a national retention strategy for Malta's remote gaming companies
Opposition MP Kristy Debono called for a national retention strategy for Malta's remote gaming companies

Earlier, Opposition MP Kristy Debono warned that Malta’s gaming legislation are at risk of becoming obsolete in the face of growing competition from within and outside the EU.

“Our legislation used to be avant-garde when it was introduced back in 2004, but the gaming sector has evolved at such a rapid rate that what was modern 12 years ago is now obsolete. Malta has now lost its novelty in being the only EU country to regulate the industry, and indeed a number European jurisdictions have now followed and even overtaken our regulation.

“I hope that the proposed legislation will pass into law as soon as possible because every day that passes is a wasted opportunity.”

In her speech, she also urged the government to introduce more schemes to encourage businesses to develop an online presence.

Debono proposed the drafting of a national strategy to retain the gaming companies that have set up shop in Malta, and the simplification of the licensing process for new gaming companies.

“The due diligence process mustn’t be diluted, but operators and service operators are being asked to provide too much paperwork,” she said.

She also called on the government to take on a more pro-active stance to combat money laundering, noting that an asset recovery bureau it had promised has not yet been introduced.

“If we don’t adopt a risk-based approach, then our country is at risk of slipping behind when it comes to its reputation and ability to attract serious foreign direct investment,” she said.