SAMENA Telecommunications Council presented telcos' perspectives on public policy considerations for OTTs at the fifth open consultation meeting of the ITU Council working group on developmental aspects of the internet (CWG-Internet). The meeting was held at ITU headquarters in Geneva in September 2017, with more than 100 participants from Member States in attendance.
SAMENA Council, represented by its Chief Economist, Imme Philbeck, presented operator members' viewpoints, emphasising that balanced convergence of OTTs and network operators can only be achieved in an environment that is forward-looking and which establishes a level-playing field based on the principle of “same services, same rules”. To enable such an environment, OTTs should be effectively integrated into the fabric of national policy- and regulatory frameworks – where relevant. This can only be achieved based on new, forward-looking policies, rules, and regulatory frameworks that support innovation, investment, competition, and new business models. These policies, rules, and frameworks may not be the rules, policies or frameworks that exist today. New regulations should be light-touch, outdated regulations should be removed, and key principles should be transferred to the entire digital ecosystem, including principles of pluralism, proportionality, openness, non-discrimination, neutrality, public interest, standardization, security and consumer protection.
Key messages from the Open Consultation viewpoints as well as the Panel Discussion were divergent. OTT providers expressed their wish to continue to operate as they do at present, with little or no regulation. Telecommunication network operators (and some Member States, considering they do not obtain tax revenues from OTT providers), expressed their wish to limit the impact of OTT on their business, stating that there is a need for a level-playing field (“similar services, similar rules”). Civil society highlighted their concerns with human rights, privacy, data protection, and access (network neutrality).
While no consensus was achieved, the stakeholders present at the meeting agreed on several points. It was noted that OTTs bring considerable socio-economic benefits, contributing inter alia to increasing digital inclusion and promoting communication, providing innovative services and e-applications and enabling entrepreneurship and economic growth. In this regard, it was noted that OTTs can play a role in the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda.
Differing views were expressed with regard to OTT’s potential effect on the telecommunications/ICT sector. Some expressed the view that the use of OTT has led to a decrease in operator revenues and this could have an impact on the expansion of infrastructure and connecting the unconnected, especially in developing countries. Others expressed the view that there was a “virtuous circle” between OTT service providers and telecom operators, as increased demand for OTT services can stimulate greater demand for broadband connections.
Some were of the view that regulatory intervention could be considered with regard to OTTs, while some others were of the view that regulatory interventions could hinder digital innovation, and impede the creation of an enabling and competitive ecosystem for innovation and investment.
A number of policy issues on OTTs were suggested, such as competition, taxation, security, harmful content, privacy and data, consumer protection, and Net Neutrality.
In view of a converging digital ecosystem, the potential benefits of a closer cooperation between the different actors involved were discussed and suggestions were made by some on potential partnerships.
It was noted that human rights must be respected, including access to information, freedom of expression and privacy.
Some were of the view that OTT-related policy issues should be developed in Intergovernmental bodies, in particular in the ITU. Some were of the view that such discussions should take place in multi-stakeholder forums.
Some were of the view that the inputs to this consultation demonstrated some of the limitations of multi-stakeholder models. Some were of the view that this consultation demonstrated the many benefits and advantages of multi-stakeholder models.
SAMENA Council believes that the OTT issue is highly important to both its operator members as well as to industry players that are a part of its membership. The significance of this issue will continue to raise attention and demand solutions, given the impact of OTTs on the entire digital ecosystem and the economy in general, and on operators' business and future investment plans. In this regard, SAMENA Council shall play its role to further investigate the needs and elevate perspectives of its members. The Council will also contribute to the understanding of developmental aspects of the Internet in the OTT environment and the digital ecosystem, with telecom operators as its key enablers.
CWG-Internet was established as a separate group by Council Resolution 1336, in accordance with Resolutions 102 and 140 of the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference. CWG-Internet is limited to Member States, with open consultation to all stakeholders. After the Plenipotentiary Conference, which was held in Busan in 2014, CWG-Internet started to hold a physical open consultation meetings after each online consultation. Communication and Information Technology Commission of Saudi Arabia (CITC), represented by Eng. Majed Al-Mazyed, CITC's General Manager of International Affairs and as Chairman of CWG-Internet, played an important role in allowing for this opportunity for telecom operators' viewpoints to be expressed through SAMENA Council.