The market for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Malta is set to be further consolidated with the proposed merger of yet another ISP with quad band player GO plc.
In fact, Business Today has learnt that Bell Net Limited, which has been operating as an ISP since 2003 covering mostly the corporate sector, is currently in discussions with rival GO in order to transfer its ISP business to GO.
If the deal goes through, GO will acquire a substantial slice of the business market that Bell Net has been serving since its inception.
In fact, Bell Net has been the ISP of choice for the majority of the lucrative e-gaming business in view of the fact that from the beginning, it had international connectivity both with GO and Vodafone, thus offering full redundancy in case of a failure of the connectivity of either GO or Vodafone.
Full redundancy was crucial for e-gaming companies, enabling them to offer a round-the-clock service during all days of the week, since gaming is an impulse-based activity. It was only after GO experienced an interruption of twelve hours in its international connectivity on 6 August 2008 that GO and Vodafone eventually signed an agreement to offer full backup in case of a breakdown in each other’s submarine cable.
Asked by Business Today to confirm whether there were discussions between the two telecoms companies about a possible merger, a GO spokesperson did not answer, citing regulatory requirements.
“GO plc does not wish to make any comments at this stage,” he told Business Today. “As a plc, GO will make any necessary announcements as it deems appropriate on the Malta Stock Exchange in line with listing regulations.
“As always, GO plc binds itself with all the necessary rules and obligations within the parameters of the law,” the GO spokesperson added.
Bell Net Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bell Med Limited which was established in 1996 as a content provider of financial Services information through its website business-line.com.
Since 1998 Bell Med had further expanded its range of operation by including hosting and IT support for its corporate customers. IT security and auditing became a major service within Bell Med’s services portfolio.
In 2003 Bell Med Limited gained license to operate as an ISP. Under its newly formed branch – Bell Net – the company started to offer broadband Internet connectivity to its corporate customers as well as to home users in Malta and Gozo.
Today Bell Med provides e-security, consulting and testing to business customers as well as to professional consulting firms.
Industry sources told Business Today that the Office of Fair Competition had not been notified as yet about the proposed take-over of Bell Net by GO.
Exactly a month ago, on 3 February 2009, GO plc had announced that it had taken over the Internet and hosting services offered by NextWeb and NextGen Limited respectively.
NextWeb and NextGen Limited clients had been notified about the move in an e-mail sent to all the subscribers of the two companies shortly after midnight.
In a joint statement later in the morning, GO had said that “NextWeb, NextGen IT and GO will be working together to ensure the smooth transition of the customers’ subscription with no disruption in the service”.
It was a historical irony that the ISP founded by former Maltacom plc chairman Tony Mejlaq to compete with GO shortly after being removed from office in 1998, had transferred its operations to GO after a battle of ten years.
In the meantime, Euroweb had joined forces with rivals Keyworld and NextGen, two other internet service providers, to form NextWeb, which operated as an ISP, while NextGen focused on web hosting services.
However, when GO and Melita started competing aggressively for retail subscribers around two years ago, bypassing the independent ISPs and competing directly with them for market share, the fate of most small ISPs was sealed.