Facebook plans free internet project for Sub-Saharan Africa

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Facebook’s plans to launch satellite and drone initiatives capable of providing free internet services to rural and urban Sub-Saharan Africa is sending a wave of panic to the Nigerian telecom operators who fear their revenue bases could be further depleted by unlicensed operators who provide similar services they have paid huge licence fees for.

The telcos contend that it is the duty of the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission; NCC, to provide a regulatory balance that would ensure the industry remained stable while the players also remained profitably in business. One of the ways they believe the NCC would achieve that balance, is to harmonise regulation for all electronic communication providers in the country where a uniform set of rules and obligations are set for all types of services regardless of source. However, the NCC had earlier maintained it would not regulate the OTTs considering that they are providing innovative services that are giving users valuable options.

Director, Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr. Tony Ojobo had said: “Regulating OTT is not on the table at the moment. We have actually carried out a research and the report is on our website; when the issue of OTT came up and network operators were complaining that OTT is eating into their profit. We made them understand that it’s a liberalised market. The operators should be offering some value. We can’t stop technology, people are coming up with ideas and there is no way you can stop them,” he added. Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman ALTON Silence, no more golden But Chairman of umbrella body of telecom operators, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, Engr.

Gbenga Adebayo said: “We make bold to admit that Facebook’s free internet initiatives and all others by the OTTs, would cut into our return on investments, but technology is about developments and you can’t stop it when it comes. However, there are certain basic precautions government needs to take to protect the security of the nation, the market and industry players. These OTTs are not paying taxes in the country like we do but in addition, there is also the risk of inability of law enforcement operatives to monitor communication conducted over such networks. We still believe that one key intervention the NCC needs to make, which has potential to somewhat balance the playing field, is the introduction of regulation which would ensure a uniform set of rules and obligations for all types of services.