The MCA is responsible to ensure that a number of identified electronic communication services are made available to end-users in the Maltese islands at an affordable price. The services so identified are referred to as Universal Services, and the Authority may specifically designate one or more undertakings with obligations to provide each identified Universal Service.
The set of Universal Services includes various services, amongst which the provision of a fixed telephone line, directory enquiry services and directories, public payphones, and measures for disabled end-users. It also includes alternative consumer tariff options to ensure that those on low incomes or with special needs are not prevented from accessing fixed line telephony. A prepaid fixed telephony service is also identified as an aid for end-users to control their expenditure.
Since undertakings designated to provide Universal Service have the legal right to seek compensation from public funds or a sharing mechanism for any net costs incurred to fulfil such obligations , it is imperative that the principles of objectivity, transparency, non-discrimination and proportionality are respected when establishing which Universal Services should be retained or not.
One of the main proposed developments being consulted upon include that the obligation to provide a fixed telephone line would only be applicable in areas where no other undertakings offer such a service.
The consultation is also proposing changes in the obligations relating to directories and directory services. The most recent printed directory which was available on the market was published back in 2004 by Maltacom. Although in 2010 a number of entities had expressed their interest to publish this directory, following an adjudication process they were all disqualified. Another entity which had notified the MCA that it shall be publishing a printed directory also withdrew its interest earlier this year.
In considering whether to retain or withdraw the printed directory as a Universal Service, the Authority carried out an extensive analysis which included the commissioning of a public survey. The survey clearly shows that only a small percentage of people frequently need to search for new numbers, and when they do so they generally use alternative sources. The MCA also took into consideration that an electronic comprehensive directory is already provided free of charge as a Universal Service on the Internet, and that directory enquiry services are also offered by a number of operators. It also took into account that printed business directories are distributed on a regular basis to every household, and that mobile users actively update their contact lists. Accordingly the need for a printed telephone directory to search for an individual’s number who is either not listed on a business directory, or is not in the user’s mobile phone contact list, has decreased substantially. The cost to publish a printed directory would be well in excess of one million Euros, which funds could be utilised more effectively in other ICT programmes contributing to long-term benefits in promoting digital literacy in Malta.
Accordingly, the consultation is proposing to withdraw the printed telephone directory as a Universal Service while also proposing a smartphone app to be made available allowing users to look up both fixed and mobile telephone numbers. This development would not exclude entities willing to publish such a printed directory on a voluntary commercial basis in the future.
Another development in the consultation is that formal approval by the MCA for the removal of a public payphone will not be required as long as both the minimum number of payphones established for a given locality, as well as the minimum established distance from the nearest payphone, are maintained.
All the other Universal Service Obligations have remained unchanged.
Decision on the Universal Service Obligations on Electronic Communication Services