Nigeria Contemplates regulation of Over-the-Top Services such as WhatsApp

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In June 2015, Airtel Africa CEO Christian De Faria argued that over-the-top content providers such as Facebook, Telegram, Google and Whatsapp should be regulated and forced to pay a fee for utilization of infrastructure put in place by mobile companies. The argument stemmed from the realization that OTT services were increasingly biting into the revenues of Telcos. In January, the biggest telcos in South Africa MTN and Vodacom posted the same argument leading to parliamentary hearings to determine the licensing and regulatory obligations of OTT. The moves in South Africa led to a spirited online campaign in Mzansi under the #SaveWhatsApp.

The same debate is emerging in Nigeria with the regulator keen on spurring the debate. The Nigeria Communications Commission published a report titled An overview of provision of over-the-top services, that analyzed the current state as well as implications of these services in Nigeria.  In the report, the NCC states that  telcos cannot earn revenue directly from these services as they are not involved in planning, selling, provisioning. The services are however carried by the networks.  

The NCC further states that it does not have a framework for the regulation of these services.

The NCC issues communications licenses for the operation and provision of communication services that define the  Guidelines on International Gateway Access and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for the Nigerian Telecommunications Industry. While the license is meant to cover provision of VoIP services, it does explicitly address the current challenges and threats pose by the growth and uptake of these services over the traditional telephone networks. 

It will be interesting to see what the NCC chooses to follow as a way forward but the language in the report points to possible regulation with the debate on the same being the first step in that direction.

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Eric writes on business, govt policy and enterprise tech.