What happens if Nigeria starts regulating social media platforms?

Two in every five Nigerians use either Blackberry messenger (BBM), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Skype or all of the above. In fact, citizens are increasingly turning to these services to communicate with their loved ones and colleagues, almost exclusively. While traditional telecoms companies like MTN, Airtel, GLO and Etisalat make profits from calls and the occasional SMS charge, there is no doubt that the penetration of the internet has led to a preference for services which connect people without relying so much on the traditional telecoms sector.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently released a report titled; An Overview of Provision of Over-the-Top [OTT] Services. In the report, the NCC outlined other countries where the need for regulation of OTTs have being raised. It also cites a report from auditing firm, Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), which says that traditional telecoms companies can exist side-by-side with OTTs. “If telecom operators are to develop a successful strategic response to the rise of OTT competitors, they must first take stock of the considerable assets and capabilities they already possess and determine how they can leverage them in order to compete against, or work with, the OTT players,” says the report.

No specific moves have been made to regulate OTTs in Nigeria, as the NCC still needs to establish just how significantly OTTs in Nigeria affect traditional telecoms services. If/when a regulation goes through, traditional telecoms companies like MTN will likely gain revenue from the use of any of these platforms. This can only happen if OTT service owners are pressured into a partnership with existing telecoms companies in the country. Also, app designers in the country will have to conduct their business through the traditional telecoms companies as they will no longer be able to do their business without passing through several levels of bureaucracy. This will definitely lead to reactions from over-the-top service owners and users, who now prefer to make internet based calls as opposed to the regular services offered by telecoms companies.

Prior to this report, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa set up a committee to look into regulating OTTs in the country. They said OTT services stimulated demand for network access, but made no direct contribution to infrastructural development. However, they pointed out that regulation that was applied to OTT services would be very difficult to enforce, causing them to observe whether the market evolves before passing any laws. Maybe Nigeria’s NCC should also follow in South Africa’s steps. Besides, Nigerians cannot be expected to stop using these services just because it is hurting the profit of traditional telecommunications companies.

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