Over-the-top service (OTT) providers must be regulated as they utilise and profit from the infrastructure put in place by mobile network operators, said Christian De Faria, Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Africa.
The Airtel Africa CEO spoke during the 2015 International Telecommunication Union Global Symposium for Regulators in Libreville, Gabon where he challenged regulators to take action in building a structure that creates an equal playing field for all providers.
De Faria told delegates that OTT players are using operator platforms from which to offer services that cannibalise mobile network revenues. “Certain OTT providers understand both the issue as well as the need to work together to achieve a mutually beneficial solution,” commented De Faria. “We need each other.”
De Faria’s comments sparked a debate amongst regulators from around the world, highlighting the breadth and critical importance of the issue of determining the role and approach of regulators to ensuring fairness in a rapidly changing industry. The Airtel Africa CEO’s remarks were echoed by fellow panelist and operator Mr Bocar Ba, Chief Executive Officer, Samena Telecommunications Council.
Regulators in attendance voiced a common position that no single country or regulatory entity can solve the issue on its own, but rather that a coordinated approach is required to establish a tariff framework that balances the rights of consumers and encourages innovation while rewarding investment in telecommunications infrastructure.
“We are happy with the data revolution that is taking place, but new players are riding on our infrastructure and investment, and yet they are not subject to the same taxes and regulation regimes as operators. We expect regulators to help,” said De Faria.
“Just like all the players in this industry, we seek to increase our footprint by offering our customers a wider range of products and services. However, we need a levelled playing field for all operators, as this will not only allow for equitable competition between over-the-top operators and telecommunications companies, but will also ensure the investments required to deploy these technologies are viable,” he continued.
He added that regulators needed to step in and start treating mobile network operators as partners. To be successful, De Faria said, regulators should consider regulations for OTT players that cover licensing, spectrum, security and revenues. Should OTT services such as VoIP continue to grow, mobile network operators will be forced to charge their subscribers a premium fee to access the services.
“As network operators, we need OTT businesses as they help us reach a wider market, while conversely the OTT companies are dependent on our networks to thrive,” added De Faria.
“We are adapting our business models by offering products that incorporate OTT players because we don’t want to block them, but regulators need to ensure a level playing field for all. Ultimately, mobile network operators are seeking a win-win solution in which customers can benefit socio-economically from mobile connectivity,” said De Faria.