The recent move by the federal government to license of online radio and television stations has sent emotions flying left and right.
While some welcomed the development; others expressed cautious optimism; but critics, said the move is inherently wrong, and can never be justified. The proposed licensing of online radio and television stations, is part of the wide ranging reforms in the broadcasting industry approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Lai Mohammed, minister, Information and Culture, however insisted that “WebTVs and radio stations, including foreign broadcasters beaming signals into Nigeria, will be licensed because we must bring sanity into this industry.” Nigeria may not be the first country to introduce the license scheme, but it may go down the history books as one which did not lay the foundation for licensing.
To some however, the move is commendable as it will sanitise the online space and check incendiary Web-broadcast sites fanning the embers of hate and division in Nigeria. Online radio and television stations are the so-called over-the-top (OTT) services, which simply refers to deliveries of broadcast contents over the internet.
And for intents and purposes, Nigeria does have control over these contents and you cannot regulate or license what you don’t have control over. WebTVs and radio stations are so pervasive and ubiquitous as data shows 71% of internet users also use OTT services.
It is even suspected that by 2022, 55.1 million people will no longer watch traditional pay TV. In the telecommunications space, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), is seriously under pressure on how and when to regulate OTT players, which have been described as a serious threat to traditional telecommunications operators.
Though, NCC has repeatedly claimed that it will not regulate technology, but stakeholders have called on NCC to as a matter of urgency look for ways to curb the growing influence of OTT players including Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Wechat, Telegram, Viber, Skype, Imo, and others.
To compound the challenge, Ovum, an independent analyst and consultancy firm, revealed that global operators, Nigeria inclusive lost $386 billion over a period of six years (2012 – 2018), to the incursions made by the OTT players on operators.
Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman, NCC, urged operators to restructure their business models, to boost their revenue, which is falling as a result of various challenges, including those of OTTs.
Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), OTT services in Nigeria have brought displacement effects on operators.
He said data showed that voice minutes have been declining due to impact of OTT; while VoIP has been increasing; OTT Data flux has been increasing as shown with the 2016 data, and telcos are losing money to this trend.
From his perspective, Chijioke Ezeh, national coordinator, Wireless Application Service Providers Association of Nigeria (WASPAN) said it will be a big problem for Nigeria to sign away data and digital opportunities, stressing that OTTs are milking the telecoms operators, vendors and the entire economy.