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TERF 2019: Stakeholders Insist On Free Market For OTTs

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Stakeholders who gathered at the fifth annual Telecom Executives and Regulators Forum (TERF), organized by the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) in Lagos agreed that there is a need to have a partial regulation, bordering on just monitoring of Over-The-Top (OTT) services in Nigeria.

The regulation, according to speakers at the event should border on the domestication of data, rather than forming a gag on operators of OTT services.

Over-the-top (OTT) is a term used to refer to content providers that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the Internet, bypassing telecommunications, multichannel television, and broadcast television platforms that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.

Over-the-top services are typically accessed via websites on personal computers, as well as via apps on mobile devices (such as Whatsapp, Amazon Video, Netflix, Facebook messenger, YouTube and others on smartphones and tablets), digital media players (including video game consoles), or televisions with integrated smart TV platforms.

OTT application is seen as anything that disrupts traditional billing models – from telcos or cable/satellite companies. Examples include Netflix for video (replacing the regular TV provider) or Skype (replacing your long-distance provider).

The creation of OTT applications has led to a wide-ranging conflict between companies that offer similar or overlapping services. The traditional ISPs and telcos have had to anticipate challenges related to third-party firms that offer over-the-top applications.

At the Panel discussion that dwelt on “Formulation of Policy and Regulation for OTTs: Prospects and Challenges”, the President, Medallion Communication, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani noted that the impact of OTT has been positive. “With the effect of OTT, the industry has generated a lot of revenue. Now we need to look at it and address issues on it, but not to prevent it because that will be going against the global trend.” He further pointed out that other countries tailored the regulation of OTTs as they deemed fit because of some peculiar challenges they faced and wanted to address. However, Nigeria should look at the peculiarities of our market so that the industry does not stifle what should have been a growth factor.

Managing Director of Trefoil Networks, Mr. Onochie Amasiani, in his position, noted that OTT should be allowed a free market, however, there may be a need to domesticate the data generated in the country. “Localisation of data should be the only regulation it needs. The regulation should be built around data hosting in Nigeria. Let them use local data centers,” he maintained.

While the panelists were harping on data sovereignty and data protection, Head of Media, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Sonny Aragba-Akpore, who voiced the regulator’s viewpoint noted that formulating policies and trying to regulate OTT services might pose a hard challenge as the service is a cross-border service. According to him, trying to regulate OTTs will entail forcing companies that operate outside the shores of the country to abide by different cross-border laws and regulations over the same service.

While agreeing with the moderator of the session and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Cable Company, Ms. Funke Opeke, that the operations of OTTs have posed a competitive challenge for telecom operators, thereby depriving them of revenue, Mr. Aragba-Akpore also pointed out that the benefit of allowing OTTs to play their role in growing the industry is paramount.

Some of the other panelists that spoke harped on the need to ensure that the data generated by OTT service providers are kept within the country and that the regulator should engage stakeholders more to ensure that they play along with this simple guideline. They also called on data center operators to ensure data security and sovereignty as a means of generating trust and patronage.

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