Malta e Vaticano
Malta and Vatican
Alessandro Berni



  • Twenty years have passed since I first came into contact with our friends in Malta to help connect them to the Internet.
  • The "pre-net" network was spreading through word of mouth and personal contacts, with students returning from abroad telling tales of the wonders of the Internet, or through the first books on the subject: of note for its documentary value were "The Matrix" by John Quarterman and "!%@:: A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing & Networks" by Rick Adams (an Internet pioneer and founder of UUNET, which in the 90s became the largest Internet Service Provider in the world) and his wife Donnalyn Frey.
  • One fine day I found a message on the answering machine from someone I didn't know, calling from Malta but speaking English with an evident east European accent. It was professor Victor Nezval, looking for some information and he asked me to ring back.
  • After he explained the ins and outs of the case I offered to activate a UUCP dialup connection (an international call, Malta-Italy), which would allow him to see how email worked and provide a better channel of communication to co-ordinate subsequent steps.
  • The connection was configured in April 1992 by Mike Rizzo, one of Nezval's students, who would soon leave for the UK to begin a doctorate at the university of Kent in Canterbury.
  • After some months of experimentation, that summer we began the process of registering the Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) for Malta, ".mt".
  • By this time it was a process I was well familiar with: in October 1987, encouraged by my mentor Joy Marino, I became involved in registering the domain ".it", coming into contact (more like a collision!) with the CNUCE in Pisa, which had begun the same procedure at that time.
  • The "conflict" was resolved by a gentlemen's agreement, registering CNR as domain owner for ".it" and setting up a dedicated connection between Pisa and Genoa to ensure the Unix community was connected with the rest of the network.
  • The tricks of the trade had however been learnt and would come in handy in the future So, back in '92, I contacted Piet Beertema, our "godfather" in Amsterdam, for support.
  • Piet was the administrator of the Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica (CWI) and the man behind the first registration of a ccTLD (".nl"), in 1986. He is known for his intellectual rigour and generosity, and many feel it is largely thanks to him that the Internet blossomed in Europe.
  • It was agreed to activate the primary name server for ".mt" at CWI, with a secondary server at Genoa and others in Paris (INRIA), Stockholm (SUNET), UUNET (Rick Adams) and at the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL), where Mike Muuss worked, author of "Ping" and one of the main contributors to the software BIND which was used to manage the domain name system.
  • I sent the official request for activation of the ccTLD .mt to the hostmaster@nic.ddn.mil on 27 August 1992, and received confirmation of activation on 5 January 1993.
  • The registration was made in the name of the University of Malta, with Victor Nezval as administrative contact and Mike Rizzo as technical contact.
  • In a parallel operation we continued to explore options for activation of a dedicated data connection between Malta and Italy.
  • The annual rental fee for an analogue circuit M1020 (9.6 Kbit/s nominal) quoted by the telecom operator SIP for Italian addresses was 33 million Lire. Malta would cover the total cost of the line and we in Genoa would supply the necessary logistical and infrastructure support.
  • The first request for connection by a commercial Maltese business arrived in July '93 and a full connection to the Internet was activated shortly afterwards, enabling the University of Malta to become in every respect a node in the worldwide Internet. From this tentative beginning we now have today, according to recent statistics from ITU, no less than 240,000 Internet users in Malta, 58.9% of the population.
  • It is perhaps worth saying that all the interactions described above were carried out in the "spirit of the net", exclusively on the basis of mutual trust, without ever meeting face to face.
  • The opportunity to meet my Maltese friends in person only came a couple of years later, in 1995, when they invited me on a "holiday trip" in reward for the help received.
  • I had a memorable lunch at the Corinthia Palace hotel with Victor Nezval and Albert Leone Ganado, director of the IT Department, surrounded by the bodyguards of the Chinese premier Li Peng, who was paying an official visit to the Maltese president.
  • Another interesting fact was that this visit took place just some weeks after I had helped activate another ccTLD, for the Vatican (".va").
  • This was an interesting experience, not only giving me an opportunity to observe the great interest shown by the Vatican in new technologies and communications, but also to meet extraordinary individuals such as Sister Judith of the Franciscan order, the first "papal webmaster".
  • Since then, perhaps in an unconscious reaction to the Internet bubble that was already growing, my interest began to turn to the submarine world, studying how Internet technologies could be applied to underwater exploration.
  • The good news is that I still haven't grown tired. If we meet again in another twenty years, perhaps I'll be able to tell you about the registration of a ccTLD for Atlantis!
Happy Birthday ISOC