Stakeholders Insist on Regulatory, Technology Neutrality for Convergence


Emma Okonji

Information and communications technology (ICT) stakeholders, including regulators, operators and experts have insisted that regulatory frameworks and legislations must continuously support innovation and competition for convergence to be successful across the West Africa economies.

This was the submission of the stakeholders and experts at the 8th West Africa Convergence Conference (WACC) that held recently in Lagos. WACC is the annual stakeholders’ forum on convergence trends in West Africa, organised by Knowhow Media & Market Intelligence International Limited.

While technology convergence has inherently meant the fusing of otherwise separate technology platforms for regulators and policy makers, the challenge has remained how to sustain growth, maintain market coherency, remain fair to all parties and be effective in the face of increasing trends of disruptive technologies.

President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, said: “Every operator is concerned with leveraging on technologies to enhance service, gain competitive advantage and operate within the fringe of existing regulatory frameworks. The pressure to meet market and technology dynamics often result in conflict with slower regulatory process.”

In his paper on “Regulation, Technology Neutrality and New Telecom Services in the era of Convergence the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said: “Convergence poses a unique challenge to all regulators and increasingly, they must adopt positions that best serve all interests.”

Danbatta said the NCC had opted for technology neutrality convinced that technology cannot be regulated but operators could be regulated to comply with the policy goals of the country as it concerns the telecom sector.
“We are all witnessing different technological changes and also observing convergence of services and their resulting effects on regulations especially, technology dependent regulations which are made obsolete by these changes. We have learnt from these experiences that, in developing regulations, we need to consider technology neutrality,” Danbatta said.

“We equally understand that, technology dependent regulations could hamper, slow down or restrict innovations, development and deployment of new services,” he added
According to him, as regulator, NCC has observed emerging trends and evolution of new technologies and services from time to time.

“Technological changes such as Over The Top (OTT) services whose mode of operations are technically different from the traditional services have emerged. OTT services are competing with traditional services, for example, voice calls are routed differently from the existing system which used structured numbering plan developed for routing and billing purposes, for technically different platform which establishes call using applications (apps) sitting on phones connected through the internet to their hosting servers,” he said.

But Danbatta assured stakeholders that the “Commission will continue to provide the enabling environment including the formulation of technology neutral regulatory frameworks to promote growth and development in the industry.”
The Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, who spoke on “Convergence, IT Regulation and the Promotion of Local Content,” said regulation remained essential to sustaining real growth and the building of indigenous capacity, and with convergence, it becomes even more imperative to ensure that the country leverages on converged platforms not just as a consumer but as a producer.

“Without regulation, you cannot, in any way, promote our local content; you cannot in any way encourage and motivate people to patronise it. Look at our local industries all over, they are complaining about patronage, and why is it so,” Pantami said.

The CEO of Fintrak Software Limited, Mr. Bimbo Abioye; CEO of Medallion Communications Limited, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani; and CEO of Rack Centre, Mr. Tunde Coker, all agreed with Pantami’s submission, arguing that policy ought to drive patronage of indigenous solutions and government has to lead with the required legal and policy frameworks to promote local content.