A second fibre optic link between Malta and Gozo could lure up to 200 high-skilled workers who had to leave the island to seek better opportunities in IT, gaming and the digital creative industry, a feasibility study has concluded.

The report states that if accompanied by proper fiscal and pro-business measures this €3.5 million investment could give even higher returns that could boost the Gozitan economy.

The €250,000 government-commissioned study was announced in July last year, during a special Cabinet meeting held in Victoria. At the time, Joseph Muscat had said the lack of a robust IT infrastructure was putting off potential investors from the gaming industry among others.

Carried out by the GozoConnect joint venture between December 2014 and last June, the report examined the technical, financial, and sociological implications of setting up a digital hub on the sister island. A copy of this report was recently tabled in Parliament by Economy Minister Chris Cardona in reply to a parliamentary question filed by Nationalist Party MP Chris Said. Further details would be announced once the planning phase was completed, the minister said.

Though Dr Cardona estimated the overall cost of the project at €3.5 million, this could vary significantly according to which option the government chooses.

The study examined four op-tions, with the cheapest being a €2.6 million project for a cable between St Paul’s Bay and Qala. On the other hand, a fibre-optic link between Paradise Bay in Ċirkewwa and Mġarr ix-Xini, in the limits of Xewkija, would be the most expensive option at €3.7 million.

In terms of the effects of digital connection on remote EU re-gions, the study concluded that such a project would contribute to reducing the socio-economic gap between Malta and Gozo.

It estimated that a second fibre-optic cable had the potential to cause the return of between 50 and 200 higher-skilled native Gozitans, depending on the attractiveness of available opportunities.

The report also made recommendations aimed at maximising the returns from this project, which could vary from as little as €4.3 million (enough to cover the capital investment) up to a best-case scenario of €25.5 million.

These targets could be reached through increased productivity of higher quality employment in Gozo and by starting to reverse the existing brain drain.

In tangible terms, the study called for reducing the highest marginal tax rate for graduates working in Gozo, better utilisation of MCAST and the university campus on the sister island and tapping EU funds to roll out pro-business incentives.

Other measures being proposed were better support to reduce the cost of labour for those employers who decide to convert their workers’ status from part-time to full-time and more tele-working incentives.

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