Zambia hints at fifth telco operator

A fifth telco
for Zambia?

Enough room says
industry regulator.

Saturday, Feb 22nd

Africa to propose tighter OTT regulation at global meeting

Africa to propose tighter OTT regulation at global meeting.

The World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly (WTSA-16), taking place in Tunisia over the next ten days, will hear proposals that include a call for the ITU Standardisation Sector to reign in over-the-top (OTT) services in Africa.

WTSA-16 is a global meeting held every four years to develop international ICT standards for governments, industry and academia. A proposal by African member states, drafted by the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) which is to be presented during WTSA-16, acknowledges the rapid growth of OTT services such as Whatsapp, Skype and Google Talk and suggests that they should be better controlled due to their "economic and tax-related impact, especially in the developing countries."

The ATU proposes what it describes as 'the coordination of action in favour of regulation (of OTTs) at regional and global level' and says OTT operators do not invest in the development of the telecommunication infrastructures of developing countries, but create value over the top of the networks of telephone operators without paying them financial compensation.

"OTT operators offer VoIP and messaging services in direct competition with the basic voice and SMS services offered by telecommunication operators, without being subject to the same regulatory constraints. A major proportion of the revenues made by the OTT operators escapes any form of taxation at global level. The free offers of OTTs are not only attractive to consumers, but also have a direct impact on the turnovers of telephone operators in developing countries as well as an impact thereof on the tax revenues of States and sector regulators," explains the ATU before restating what is says is a need to refocus the regulatory framework of the telecommunication sector with focus on OTTs.

The WTSA ITU-T recommendations on OTTs, sought out by the ATU, are consensus-based and non-obligatory, although they may become required international standards and some Member States can adopt some of them into national laws.

Industry concern

World-wide non-profit organisation Internet Society has expressed its concern about what it describes as proposals that would establish burdensome regulatory provisions for convergence technologies that could limit the innovation potential for Internet services and applications.

The organisation anticipates that several governments will seek to expand the sector's work on finding regulatory frameworks for Internet-based services and applications with the goal of developing recommendations.

"The economic and tax implications of Internet-based services and applications, particularly Voice over IP (VoIP), on legacy telecommunications revenues will be another major issue discussed," the Internet Society advises.

The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) is currently conducting a study into OTT services in Africa as the debate on their impact continues. The ongoing study is looking into the impact of OTT services on traditional business models as well as on innovation and economic growth across the continent.

In South Africa, Graham Mackinnon, Chief Legal Officer at Cell C, says, "We've got a lot of other things that if they are looked into it would help the industry and consumers a lot. Things like infrastructure sharing. The main issue at the moment in our industry is that the input costs are too high because you've got duplication of infrastructure where one guy builds a tower and another guy builds one next to it. If the sharing of infrastructure was regulated in a better way, that would bring down input costs."


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