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OTT raises more ICT industry debate

By Prince Osuagwu

…NCC, ALTON differ on regulation

The increasing influence of Over the Top, OTT service providers like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Netflix in the Nigerian ICT ecosystem appears a threat to the revenues of licensed telecom operators.

Most services provided by licensed operators at a cost, are these days, rendered free by the OTT service providers and operators are complaining bitterly that this development, is cutting deep into their revenue bases.

More so, they express deep concern that in spite of this revenue decline, which threatens their survival, the government expects nothing less than full compliance to the conditions of their licenses. The operators said they are still under obligation to pay relevant taxes as and when due.

Throwing the challenge back to government, the operators are calling the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to  ensure that all service providers in the telecom space come under the law by way of regulation.

Chairman Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, came out bluntly to challenge the regulator on why it should remain technologically neutral over the issue of OTTs.

According to Adebayo,”the idea of technology neutrality is what allows the OTTs to  operate in Nigeria without any license, at the expense of the licensed operators. “They are eroding our revenue. The licenses we have, enable us to provide voice, data and text message services and these are the avenues through, which we make money.

“However, today, people are no longer sending texts because of the OTTs. Our voice and text message revenues have been affected because subscribers now prefer to send messages over Whatsapp or Facebook rather than text messages; video calls are also gradually replacing the regular voice calls.

If we must maintain the $70 billion investments in the telecom sector , government must balance authorisation between our services and these disruptive technologies. We are losing money. People that have no presence and no license in the country are the ones making money, the regulator must be concerned about this” he added.

However, the regulator is looking at the issue from a different perspective. It regards OTTs as growth enablers rather than revenue disrupters.

In fact the NCC believes that the over 100 million data subscription that Nigeria enjoys today and the surge in mobile internet subscription, wouldn’t  be possible at this time, without the activities of the over the top telecom service providers.

The regulator has once said it has no plans to regulate either the internet or social media, maintaining that they have a peculiar way of growing the industry and balancing out competition in the sector.

Again, at an event in Lagos, Hi-Tech specifically sought the opinion of the regulator in the raging issue.

The Director of Policy, Competition and Economic Analysis at NCC, Mrs Josephine Amuwa, rather challenged the telecom operators to be more open minded and accept that the OTTs benefit their activities more than they disrupt it.

She said: “When you talk of OTTs, the only way the consumers enjoy OTT services is through data subscription, and who is providing the data, the operators. From our in-house study,we have seen tremendous growth in data consumption as a result of the increase in usage of these OTTS”.

She added that “If data consumption is growing, it doesn’t matter whether they are inside or outside the country. They are positively impacting telecoms development in Nigeria” .

She, however, promised that the Commission, having established the positive impacts of the OTTs on data consumption, would take the study further to establish the level of effect on operators and decide whether they actually deserve to be regulated.

Internet subscriptions on the four GSM networks crossed the 100 million mark in January for the first time. An addition of two million subscriptions, to the 98 million recorded in December 2017. In February, the figure moved to 100.9 million.

NCC believes these figures were direct impacts of the activities of over the top services providers.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.