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Africa grapples with OTT regulation conundrum

Africa grapples with OTT regulation conundrum

Over-The-Top (OTT) services in Africa ought to be more tightly regulated, according to findings of a study recently released by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO).

The study Over-The-Top Services: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities, reflects widespread support for a regulatory response to manage the impact of OTT services – despite misgivings by OTT operators.

Specifically, the study expounded on issues directly influencing the rollout and application of OTT services including impact on existing networks and the need for regulation to ensure 'a level playing field' within ICT and telecommunications.

A core feature of the study was an online survey which found that 100% of ISPs and operators believe OTT service providers should contribute to the upkeep of networks - only approximately 65% of governments (and regulators) and 11% of OTT service providers share this view.

The study also listed several regulatory concerns including: licensing, data protection & privacy, universal service obligations, content regulation, spectrum management, quality of service, net neutrality and even taxation.

The CTO added that OTT disruption affects more than just the telecommunications industry and also has implications for publishing, media and broadcasting.

Shola Taylor, outgoing Secretary-General of CTO said, "This report is intended to assist ICT (and telecommunication) ministers, regulators and policymakers from Commonwealth countries and beyond to address critical policy and regulatory dilemmas, e.g. what type of policy and regulatory framework should countries establish to encourage the development of OTT type services while ensuring that competition, innovation and investment are sustained into the future? More importantly, is current legislation and policy fit for purpose?"

Nigeria's response

Sunday Dare, executive commissioner for stakeholder management at Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said while it is obvious that consumers in Nigeria have benefitted from OTT service providers, a regulatory response is long overdue.

"It is also undeniable that these innovations and services and the ensuing consumer behaviour have run ahead of the current regulatory approaches in Nigeria. It has now become vital for Nigeria to come up with regulatory approaches that not only address the peculiarities of the Nigerian 'OTT' context, but also ensure positive outcomes for consumers, traditional service providers, OTTs, and the federal government."

The survey showed that almost 70% of governments and 100% of telecommunication & network operators believe current regulatory regimes do not address emerging OTT services – and that the majority (90%) of OTT service providers feel differently.

The CTO added that while larger and more advanced Commonwealth countries have the scale and market and regulatory sophistication to take advantage of the App economy, particularly by building domestic digital businesses, this is not necessarily the case with emerging and small Commonwealth countries.

"Given the widely acknowledged role of telecommunication services in promoting economic development, it is critical that such markets focus on communication infrastructure investment attraction by ensuring that network operators can earn sufficient margins to sustain the rollouts and upgrades that underpin the App Economy. In many small and less-developed jurisdictions, government still own monopoly operators and the impacts on government revenues from OTT adoption can be significant. OTT undercuts not only voice calls and SMS but also roaming and international interconnection revenues. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have negligible leverage on transnational OTT players and this places significant limitations on their regulatory options." reads an excerpt from the study.

Africa has a total of 18 countries that are full CTO member states, including: Kenya, Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

ICT sector members include Zimbabwe's regulator Potraz, the GSMA, Facebook, Huawei, Safaricom, Sentech, satellite companies Intelsat and Eutelsat, as well as Botswana's BoFiNeT.

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