The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has made known its readiness to regulate the activities of OTTs (Over-the-top messaging), which is basically the concept of third-party operators providing instant messaging services as an immediate alternative to normal network directed text messaging services provided by a mobile network operator, examples are; BBM, Whatsapp, Skype and the likes.
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The consideration of OTT regulations is not only peculiar to the country as a number of governments have had discussions on the matter, especially when telecommunication networks operating within their countries begin to agitate for a reasonably equal playing field.
Most recently before the moves by NCC, South Africa has held an open meeting to decide how much the government should get into said OTT regulations. At their meeting which saw participation from a number of representatives of top tech giants, the idea was widely rejected by every tech giant rep present, from Microsoft (which owns Skype) to Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The arguments brought up against the move were reasonable, admittedly made more so by the general public’s wide embrace of these OTT platforms.
On its part, NCC which released a 23 page document titled; ‘An Overview of Provision of Over-The-Top (OTT) Services’ which is basically an examination of the evolution and development of OTTs in the telecommunications market, noted how the growing influence of these OTT platforms posed visible threats to the operation of traditional networks, which in Nigeria include; MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat. It also listed along with the commonly accepted – Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and WeChat- services such as Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, live streaming and other social media applications as OTTs.
The commission further explained that OTT is a service based on the Voice over IP communication protocol (VoIP), a disruptive technology that is rapidly gaining ground against traditional telephone network technologies and with an increase in the uptake of these mobile VoIP services provided by apps such as Google, Facebook, Skype, Viber and WhatsApp, among others, telecoms operators “face the risk of eroding revenues and profitability.”
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Before we’re quick to shout a hurried good riddance to traditional telecommunications service providers, it is important to note that these OTT platforms while increasingly generating huge revenues and driving high levels of data traffic, still run on the broadband networks of traditional telecom operators. The report exposes why this is bad, stating;
“To further worsen this issue, the traditional operators still have to make significant investments in upgrading their networks to handle the increasing volume of data generated by the same providers of OTT services. “Most traditional telephone network service providers, therefore, argue that unless there is a revenue flow to them from such services, they do not have an incentive to continue to maintain or upgrade the networks.”
We still wait to see what NCC will finally arrive at by way of regulations but since traditional telecommunication network providers can’t expect the general populace to elect to stop using these services, it would be better for all involved if they begin exploring more innovative, cost-effective ways of keeping their OTT competitors at bay.