OTT debate in Africa captures Commonwealth attention
21 October 2016
The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) is to conduct an in-depth study into OTT services in Africa as debate over issues like revenue protection and market share continues.
The study, which emanated from the Commonwealth ICT Ministers Forum in London in June 2016, will look into the impact of OTT services (applications and services that are accessible over the internet and ride on operators' networks offering internet access services) both in the context of traditional business models and of opportunities for innovation and stimulating economic growth.
According to a working paper by Research ICT Africa in March 2016, African operators have adopted various strategies to defend their revenues against OTT services such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype. Strategies include bundling voice, text and data together in top-up products to make their desired ARPU, while some countries have banned Skype to protect international voice revenues and using OTTs to gain market share.
However, efforts have not produced a truly acceptable solution for key stakeholders including regulators, service providers and consumers.
From accusation of OTT service providers not paying taxes in South Africa - as stated by MTN's corporate service executive, Graham de Vries, in a presentation at a Parliament meeting earlier this year, to an online petition by All4Women.co.za calling on the South Africa's government to reject calls by telcos to regulate these services, the debate over regulation has been extensive across parts of Africa.
African telecom regulatory bodies have not been helpful so far - such as in Nigeria, where the NCC says it has no plan to regulate OTT services.
In Ghana, after receiving a petition to restrict subscribers from making calls through the services on the pretext that this leads to huge losses in revenues accrued from international calls to the telcos, the NCA and the government say they are not considering a ban of OTT services, but are finding a better way to harness its use.
But Kenya's content regulator has included OTT as part of the targeted service providers in the planned amendments to current regulations.
CTO's study will focus on policy and regulatory development, institutional capacity building, business analysis and improved stakeholder engagement.
Its output is expected to enable future deployment of OTT services to be conducted in a manner that addresses the priorities and concerns of all stakeholders to the benefit of consumers.