NCC has no plan to regulate OTT services – Danbatta

By The Citizen
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Professor Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, has allayed fears that the commission plans to start regulating over-the-top [OTT] services – which are services carried over the telecommunications networks. He expressed the view that a regulator's objectives should be to catalyze additional opportunities offered by OTT services to the benefit of the consumer and to support competition while avoiding the OTT related risks in the areas of security and data protection.

Danbatta made the observation in a speech delivered at the Social Media Week, which opened in Lagos on Monday. While acknowledging the fears of traditional telecom service providers that traditional telephony and SMS revenues are under threat from newer, IP based alternatives like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, etc, the NCC boss said the Commission would rather encourage network providers in Nigeria to innovate and explore more efficient business models that would enable them compete favourably with OTT service providers.

OTT services include services such as Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, live streaming and other social media applications. They deliver value to customers without any carrier/service provider being involved in planning, selling, provisioning or servicing them.

The concern is that the traditional telecommunication companies cannot directly earn any revenue from such services though delivered over their networks. OTT operators are therefore seen to be affecting baseline returns in the industry.

Danbatta considered the global considerations on the matter, saying that responses have been mixed. He recalled that at the ITU Global Symposium for regulators held in Gabon in 2015, it was counseled that a careful consideration is needed before deciding whether OTT players should be regulated or whether existing regulations should be withdrawn. NCC has therefore produced a report on OTT services, which Danbatta said is intended to elevate the value and quality of discourse on the issue.

On what the new media has to do with the Cybercrime Act, the NCC boss said since it has been accented to by the President and has become law, it has become imperative for New Media practitioners to familiarize themselves with the contents of the law as it affects their practice.

The Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, Detection, Response, Investigation and Prosecution of Cybercrimes and other Related Matters) Act 2015 was accented to by the President in May 15 2015. Danbatta said the Act does not encumber the constitutional freedom of expression but seeks to protect those whose freedom may be hindered by the freedom freely expressed by others.

Section 24 of the Act, which prescribes punishment for offences under the Act however remains contentious. It is an offence under the law for any person to send a false message or other matter by means of computer systems or network even if he/she did not originate it.

Various stakeholders including, cybercafé operators, financial institutions and telecom service providers have responsibilities spelt out under the law. Certain computer systems or networks have been designated as critical national infrastructure and penalties for damaging such are specified by the Act.

Danbatta therefore called on media practitioners to help canvass the position of the law, pointing out the severity of the offence and how willful destruction of critical facilities impact negatively on the country in all ramifications.