Imagine a life without an internet connection and digital gadgets, such as computers, IPads, mobile phones, and so on. That was the reality up to 25 years ago. The cry at the time was that should computers be introduced, unemployment would increase. Thank God, that mentality belongs to the past and Malta has fully embraced the technological developments of the digital era. Malta has the highest rate – 70 per cent - of households connected to the Internet and 98 per cent of these having broadband connection. Malta holds a higher percentage compared to the EU in Internet browsing for products and services (Malta 83.2 per cent versus EU population 81.2 per cent) as well as downloading and reading online newspapers (Malta 64.2 per cent versus EU population 49.7 per cent).
Government spearheading change (rather than resisting it)
The undertakings of the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) aided families, individuals and enterprises to have access to digital technologies as well as having basic skills in information and communications technology. The MCA has taken the initiative to better ICT access on a community level in order to lessen the digital gap.
In this regard, Communication Technology Learning Centres (CTLC’s) opened with the aim of making ICT available to all citizens; Wi-Fi Internet is made available and free of charge. During the last six years, 16 Communication Technology Learning Centres opened; 12 were open for general public. The remaining 4 were open with the aim to address specific needs. A case in point would be the opening of a CTLC at Corradino Corrective Facilities. The aim is to facilitate the inmates’ integration within the community, allowing them to possess the necessary skills to find employment thus giving their contribution to society.
Another scheme introduced was ICT4all. The scheme was introduced in 2010 for individuals of 25 years or older who could apply for a €35 voucher which could be redeemed against an ICT course. This initiative was aimed to enhance the use of technology and improve ICT skills, particularly for adults.
PC4NGO’s is another initiative in which 350 NGO’s benefitted from a total of 5,199 reconditioned computers. The aim was to lessen the digital gap; thus having access to technology and bringing these organisations closer to the Maltese.
The Fibre-To-The-Home initiative was launched with the aim of calling interested companies to build a next-generation-broadband infrastructure. This was aimed at rendering efficient Internet and other communication services to schools, the industries and the public in general. This initiative will generate a network that will prove Malta is a pioneer in ICT sector. In addition, more employment will be generated.
Malta has the highest rate of online shopping – 60 per cent (higher than the EU average of 56.8 per cent). In October 2011, the MCA launched the trustmarks. Trustmark will enable Internet users the possibility to promote those websites that abide by certain regulations while offering electronic services. Two trustmarks are eShop and eInfo. eShop provides a list of online websites which promote electronic services for purchase, whereas eInfo provides a list of those websites which do not provide online shopping but information on products.
A spectrum of
As for the use of portable devices, such as laptops, netbooks and smart phones, the use of Internet has notably increased. In this regard, Internet has been made accessible through Wifi Spots. Currently, there are 159 Wifi Spots, 65 of which are found within local council premises. Wifi Spots are free of charge.
October 2011 saw the digital switchover. The digital switchover benefits the Maltese as they now access more and better quality television stations without payment. The aim of this digital switchover was part of the Government’s work to keep up with the technological developments in the broadcasting sector. 4,760 is the number of households benefitting from this free-of-charge service.
The EPITOME is a €362,351 project aimed to better the micro-entrepreneurs’ skills thanks to ICT and communication. The project is to provide training to 300 micro-entrepreneurial employees on various skills needed in managing modern entrepreneurial business.
February 2011 saw the launching of BeSmartonline! This initiative is the outcome of the work of MCA, Appoġġ, Directorate of Educational Services (DES), Malta Police Forces, Children’s Commissioner, and Catholic Education Secretariat. The aim of this initiative is to raise awareness on a safer use of the Internet amongst youngsters as well as the instruction, which the children as well as the guardians/carers/parents and educators should receive in this respect.
The MCA will be holding the first edition of eBusiness Awards, aimed at honouring those businesses that are undertaking innovative ideas to enhance their business through the use of technology. This initiative is set to promote eBusiness and the use of information technology.
The Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) initiated a number of investments related to ICT infrastructure. These projects are aimed at providing a better service to citizens, such as eGovernment services and to develop eSkills in Malta and initiate systems such as eLearning and eHealth. All this is done as ICT is being portrayed as the tool by which our lifestyle can be enhanced as well as increase Malta’s economy through job opportunities.
eGovernment is the Government online service. The Government is giving the citizens the best and most efficient services. eGovernment services offer the possibility to pay licenses and bills online (myBills and Hosted Payment Page) as well as online applications, through an eForm.
From having primeval technological devices to excelling in the information and communication technologies, Malta has come a long way. All efforts undertaken are promoting the ICT literacy skills and eradicating ICT illiteracy. The aim is that of lessening the digital gap. The high percentages Malta has in the ICT sector are the result of improving Malta and making it an avant-garde ICT hub.