OTT, cybercrime and Nigeria’s ecosystem



Telecommunication and indeed communication services in general have transited from first generation cellular networks to third and more recently fourth generation networks (which largely ride on Internet Protocol) in various parts of the world.

This evolution has involved shifts from the use of visual signals such as beacons, smoke signals, semaphore telegraphs, signal flags, and optical heliographs, or audio messages via coded drumbeats, lung-blown horns to telegraphs, telephones as well as the use of the orbiting satellites and the Internet.

The access to 3G and 4G networks which offer mobile broadband and high-speed IP data networks has further encourages the uptake and growth of new modes of communication such as over-the-top (OTT) services, which in turn enables the provision of services such as live streaming: and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

These OTT services are provided through the Internet Protocol Telephony, which is a general term for the technologies that use IP packet-switched connections to exchange voice, fax and other forms of information that have traditionally been carried over the dedicated circuit-switched connections of the public switched telephone network (PSIN).

An OTT application is any app or service that provides a product over the Internet and bypasses traditional distribution. Services that come over the top are most typically related to media and communication and are generally, if not always, lower in cost than the traditional method of delivery.

OTT application can be seen as services that disrupts traditional billing models – from telecommunications or cable/satellite companies.

The creation of OTT applications, which include Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Wechat, among others have led to a wide-ranging conflict between companies that offer similar or overlapping services. The traditional Internet Service Providers and telecommunications have had to anticipate challenges related to third-party firms that offer over-the-top applications.

Consequently, there have been several calls for its regulation, even, especially among the traditional telecommunications operators globally.

For instance, the Chairman and Founder Bharti Airtel, Sunnil Bharti-Mittal, has lent his voice to calls for checks on the operations of OTT players.

Speaking to, Bharti-Mittal said OTT companies must be subjected to the same rules governing telecommunications operators.

“If you are subjecting telecoms operators to KYC, licence fees, it should be uniform. Regulators should allow the best technology to compete, and then the fourth industry revolution would have been created. The industry is not as it were 10 years back, the OTT has seriously encroached on our services”, Bharti-Mittal stressed.
OTT regulations from other climes.

Indeed, different countries have at some point or the other attempted to or developed a framework to regulate the provision of VoIP services. Some of these countries include:

India: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in year 2015 produced a Consultative paper on Regulatory Framework of over-the-top (OTT) services following a consultative forum conducted in year 2014 where representatives of Telecommunications Service Providers (TSPs), OTT providers and legal experts were invited to present their views. However, TRAI is yet to take a final position on the matter and they are soliciting for further comments from stakeholders.

United States of America: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) publicly states have worked to bring specific VoIP services, applications, and capabilities under its control. The FCC, regulates VoIP in five (5) categories namely- (i) 911 Services (ii) Portability (iii) Call Records (iv) Universal Service (v) Accessibility.

European Union Telecommunications markets: The EU Commission initially declared that VoIP was not “voice telephony” and after extensive stakeholder consultations, no immediate regulation was provided, however, four evaluation criteria were enumerated which, if later found to be present, would make VoIP subject to regulation.

The criteria include: (i.) Whether VoIP communications are the “Subject of a Commercial Offer (ii) Whether VoIP communications are for the Public- (iii) Whether VoIP communications are “To and From PSIN Termination Points” (iv) Whether VoIP communications “Involve Direct Transport and Switching of Speech in Real Time”-
NCC’s view on OTT

While it noted that an efficient social media platform was critical to functional ICT ecosystem in Nigeria, the NCC allayed fears being expressed that it would regulate OTT services in the country. The commission said there are no plans now or in the immediate future to regulate it.

Speaking at the recently held Social Media Week (SME), in Lagos, NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, represented by the Director of Public Affairs at the commission, Tony Ojobo, reiterated that OTT services are carried over the networks, deliver value to customers, but without any carrier service provider being involved in planning, selling, provisioning, or servicing them, thereby implying that traditional telecoms operators cannot directly earn revenue from such services.

Danbatta said these OTT services include Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, live streaming and other social media applications.

According to him, the plan of the commission with the document: “An Overview of Provision of Over The Top (OTT) Services”, was to elevate the level and quality of discourse around it.

Danbatta expressed satisfaction with the reactions to the document so far, but advised that more attention should be paid to reading the complete document in order to come to full understanding of what the commission is saying about OTT.

Danbatta noted that one salient point in the conclusion of the document was that while acknowledging the fears of traditional telecoms service providers that traditional telephony and SMS revenues are under threat from newer, IP-based alternatives like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, BBM, Facebook, among others, the document also recommended that the commission should encourage network providers in Nigeria to innovate and explore more efficient business models that would enable them compete favourably with OTT service providers.

OTT and cyber crime prevention

But to make the ICT ecosystem impactful, Danbatta urged Nigerians, especially the youths, including Bloggers, netizens to acquaint themselves with the contents of the Cyber crime Act in order to be properly guided in their cyber operations, and especially in the use of OTT platforms for communications and dissemination of information.

Danbatta, at the SMW, observed that the Cybercrime Act has become law since May last year; it was therefore, imperative for New Media practitioners to familiarise themselves with the contents of the law as it affects their practice.

Pointing to various sections of the Act, he explained that the Act does not encumber freedom of expression as erroneously believed but instead it seeks to protect those whose freedom may be damaged by the freedom freely expressed by others.

For instance, Section 24 of the Act, Danbatta pointed out, deals with Cyberstalking and prescribes punishment for “Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer system or network “ which, among others, “he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill-will or needless anxiety to another or cause such message to be sent: Commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7, 000, 000. 00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Danbatta who acknowledged the contribution of the media to the growth of the telecommunication industry, and also in bringing the sector to global attention, pledged that under his watch the NCC would be happy to associate with anything that can add value to the practice of journalism, especially in the area of capacity building, and thus help to prevent unpleasant consequences arising from needless infractions.

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