CTO Report Backing OTT Services, Gets African Regulators’ Nod

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Emma Okonji

The report of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Orgnisation (CTO) on the opportunities and challenges of over-the-top (OTT) services, which was skewed in favour of OTT operators, has been unanimously accepted by African regulators.

The acceptance followed the presentation of the report at the 9th African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF), which held recently in Cape Town, South Africa.

The AfPIF conference addressed the key interconnection, peering, and traffic exchange opportunities and challenges on the African continent and provided participants with global and regional insights for maximising opportunities that would help grow internet infrastructure and services in Africa.

The findings of the OTT study, which was completed in June 2018 by the CTO, showed that the stakeholders recognised and appreciated the innovative nature of over-the-top services (OTTs) and did not want the services stifled as OTT services offer numerous benefits to consumers.

According to a statement released by CTO, there was a general agreement at the just concluded AfPIF meeting in South Africa that a better understanding of challenges and opportunities highlighted by the report is required among all stakeholders. These issues were discussed during the panel discussion at the AfPIFconference.

The presentation of the CTO report at AfPIF, allowed both the private and public sector to understand better the challenges and opportunities of traffic generated by OTT services and how this will impact future interconnection and peering of networks.

In Nigeria, telecoms operators under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTON), had written the Nigerian telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), asking the commission to intervene in the activities of OTT operators in Nigeria, who are riding on the network of the telecommunications operators to provide free of charge services to subscribers, to the detriment of the telecoms operators.

They argued that OTT operations were fast affecting the revenue strings of the telecoms operators, since telecoms subscribers enjoy free voice and data services and do no longer see the need to purchase airtime from telecoms operators for voice communication. The OTT services providers ride on the network of traditional telecoms operators to provide free services like Skype, WhatsApp, and Imo, over the internet. Disturbed by the perceived dwindling of their revenue from voice services as a result of the free services offered by OTT operators, the telecoms operators had in a letter written to NCC, asked the Commission to stop the activities of OTT operators in Nigeria.

In response to their letter, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC. Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said he would rather wait for the outcome of the CTO report on OTT services before taking any action. Danbatta had equally said he would not want to do anything that would make NCC regulate evolving technologies like OTT, owing to the large volume of data it is generating in the telecoms industry, which he said, was a boost to broadband access and penetration.

Now that the ITU report, which supports the rollout of OTT services, has received the nod of African leaders and technology executives, it is most likely that Nigeria, through the NCC, will soon adopt the rollout of OTT services in Nigeria, despite its negative implications as perceived by telecoms operators.