Telecommunications experts have expressed opposition to the federal government’s move to license over-the-top and social media platforms in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in a statement last Friday, ordered the National Broadcasting Commission to immediately begin the licensing process for all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.
Industry experts, who spoke to our correspondent in separate interviews, however, expressed concern about the development.
A telecommunications lawyer, Ayoola Oke, described the move to license WhatsApp and others as an impossible task, saying, “The National Broadcasting Commission doesn’t even have any constitutional support for licensing OTTs.”
Oke said: “Even though the federal government wants to make a new telecommunications policy, it comes from the Nigerian Communications Commission. Authorization is a regulatory matter, which is not under the minister.
“There is a section of the Nigerian Communication Act that says that the NCC must be independent and the minister must ensure that the NCC is independent. How many countries in the world have licensed OTTs, how easy is it to license OTTs? What kind of licensing framework will you apply because it is very difficult to license OTTs. ”
According to Nigeria’s national coordinator for the Alliance for Affordable Internet, Teniola Olusola, OTT applications are based on legacy infrastructures, most of which are owned by telecom operators.
“So, we use WhatsApp or Twitter, for example, on the SMS platform of the telecommunications sector. In theory, OTT applications should be regulated by the NCC because they provide telecommunication-like services. ”
Olusola said that if OTT applications were licensed, subscribers might have to start paying for their service.
He said: “To have a level playing field, if OTT players are licensed, they are likely to start charging for certain services in line with what telecom companies are already doing. At the moment, they don’t charge for their service because they use the advertising model.
“The advertising model generates revenue for them. Their business model is different from the telecommunications business model. Telecom companies rely on the data you use or call, as the case may be, and charge you by the second. This is not the model that is reflected in the typical OTT application. ”
According to Olusola, the government needs to understand what these platforms are for.
“We will not have this conflict of over-regulation of social media, which is what they try to do, as opposed to allowing a free Internet where people can express their frustrations and opinions,” he added.
When asked if the NCC had a licensing guideline for OTT applications, the director of public affairs, Ikechukwu Adinde, said, “No, we don’t have a position on all of this yet. The NCC did not say anything. We haven’t said anything about OTT licenses. “
NBC Public Affairs Officer Ekanem Antia, when asked about the regulatory framework for licensing the OTTs, declined to comment on the matter, saying the CEO was in a better position to do so.
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