You realise how much you depend on something when you cannot use it. This applies perfectly to Internet access at home, on our mobile devices and also at the office. A few days ago the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA), which provides Internet access and IT services to government, admitted that it experienced problems on its Internet network.
“Earlier this morning at 09:55hrs internet traffic to a number of government websites and eGovernment services was disrupted. Some internal Government sites have also experienced connectivity issues. Although investigations are still underway, preliminary tests show that the disruption was caused due to a technical fault in some of the main third-party fibre connections used by Government.”
In an increasingly connected world, the chain is as strong as its weakest link. And the Internet chain is made of a lot of links, starting from your very own computer, then going out of your home or office through the telephone line or cable, then onto the Internet Service Provider, then Malta’s link with Sicily, and then the international Internet access providers. This not to mention that problem could be with the very website or online service you are trying to access.
IT companies today never guarantee a 100% efficient service or 100% uptime in terms of Internet connection. Though they very well do their best to achieve it, it’s almost impossible given the good number of factors in the equation.
MITA’s Internet service is not exception, as it is connected and to a certain extent depends on the service provided by Maltese private Internet Service Providers. Not matter how much MITA tries, it depends on them. And in case of failure, it’s tens of thousand of Public Service Employees and government entities that get affected negatively, with the result that they cannot provide critical services efficiently. In the end, it’s the citizen that suffers.
Malta’s Internet infrastructure has been built over the years and both the government and the private providers have invested tens of millions of euros into the local infrastructure and Malta’s submarine links to Italy. Malta is on its way to meet the EU’s Digital Agenda’s 2020 goals and provide super-fast Internet access over high-speed networks based on fiber cables.
The challenge now is exploiting the infrastructure and continue to build on it to provide the next generation digital services and make sure that our society as a whole benefits from the digital services like electronic commerce, electronic government, true electronic health services, and better lifelong education.
It’s here that we run the risk of failing. Only around 15% of Maltese businesses sell online, according to the latest survey sponsored by the Malta Communications Authority. Despite the ‘state-of-the-art’ Mater Dei Hospital and the new e-health system on its way, thousands of patients still receive care in corridors and the very long waiting lists are still there.
On Friday morning there was a power cut that affected tens of thousands of households in the South of Malta. It’s no use having the best infrastructure when there’s no electricity to feed it.
It’s nice to have smart meters at home but what about issues of privacy?
It’s nice to have an app on your smartphone or tablet that tells you when is the next Gozo ferry but it’s useless if the ships are out of action and the Cirkewwa terminal is not yet finished after 9 years in the making.
It’s nice to have interactive whiteboards in every classroom and a good online learning platform, but not at the expense of stressing out teachers even more.
These bread and butter issues are dependent on the use of the technology, granted, but they remain at the heart of every initiative taken in the field of technology. People, not machines, must come first.