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Malta: ISPs Create New Internet Backbone, Blockade Rival ISP

Robert Lee, Tax-news.com, London

07 December 2000


A number of Maltese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) held a press conference earlier this week to announce a new, faster, local Internet backbone. Comtel Ltd, Fastnet, Globalnet, Kemmunet, Keyworld, Nextgen Ltd, Telemail Ltd, Terranet Ltd, and Waldonet Ltd, came together to announce that they had reached a high speed interconnection agreement between themselves, in order that users may be able to access content and exchange traffic at high speed.

Speaking on behalf of the all the ISPs at the press conference, David Thake, General Manager of Waldonet Ltd, said that Malta had a very healthy level of Internet usage, with penetration rates higher than in countries such as Italy and France.

He was scathing, however, at the government's input, or rather, lack of it. He said that Malta's progress in the Internet arena had been made possible solely by the ISPs, who found themselves in a highly competitive environment with no support from the government.

A press release issued by Waldonet charged: 'Recent developments have shown that Government intends to continue to stifle this environment, by introducing regulations which encourage the monopolistic use of infrastructure by Melita, already a dominant player in this field. Furthermore, Government has increased license fees, and more recently granted MITTS, a discriminatory waiver from regulations which all other ISPs need to abide by.'

Nonetheless, Mr Thake said, Malta's other ISPs intend to move on with continuing to give a better service to their customers, citing the 2nd generation backbone as an example of this. The agreement between the ISPs will provide their users with higher performance as well as saving on international bandwidth. It is expected that the new backbone will improve performance by a factor of 76 times over the backbone that was previously in place. The backbone will run over a state of the art ATM backbone with 155Mbs connections between the ISPs.

Mr Thake said: 'However the principle of doing all this on a goodwill basis has now been put aside, until we are certain that there is a level playing field and that everybody in the market is acting in good faith.... we have for this reason decided that there will be interconnection rates between us. Anyone who would like to peer with other ISPs over the backbone needs to pay interconnection charges to those ISPs.’ Subscribers of ISPs who do not interconnect over the local backbone will still have access to the content but only through international links which experience has shown would result in much slower access.

What is clear is that the majority of ISPs in Malta are disillusioned with the government. They have made repeated calls on the Office of the Regulator to intervene in the Melita cable issue in the interest of the consumer and fair competition, but no answers have been forthcoming. The Waldonet press release stated: 'It is not enough to call the Authority a Competent Authority. Competence needs to be demonstrated by concrete and transparent action. If we are wrong, then the Competent Authority needs to explain why it thinks so.'

According to the ISPs, Brussels has reservations about the effectiveness and independence of the Competent Authority and they have been informed that officials there are keeping a close eye on developments in Malta.

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