By Cyber Era Senior Correspondent
The new findings of a second study by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) show that the majority of stakeholders continue to recognize and appreciate the innovative nature of over-the-top (OTT) services within the Internet value chain. Since the publication of the CTO 2018 OTT Report, new OTT related developments and issues have emerged in the ICT policy and regulatory space. At the same time, OTT applications have become even more pervasive in enhancing digital communications and interactions. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has fast tracked the digitalisation of the way people work and live around the globe. Following the introduction of social distancing rules or lockdowns by most nations, we have seen an increase in the use of OTT applications, such as Zoom, Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp and Netflix, for audio and video communications. OTT applications have also been used to digitalise business processes and teamwork.
Today the Commonwealth has over 2.4 billion people from member states with diverse economies ranging from developed advanced economies to developing and small economy countries. While larger and more advanced Commonwealth countries have the scale and market; and regulatory sophistication to take advantage of the digital economy, particularly by building domestic digital businesses, this is not necessarily the case with least developed countries (LDCS) and small island developing states (SIDS) of the Commonwealth. Given the widely acknowledged role of information and communication technology (ICT) services in promoting economic development, it is critical that such markets focus on attracting investment in communications infrastructure by ensuring that network operators can earn sufficient margins to sustain the rollouts and upgrades that underpin the digital economy.
Intervening in any way with OTTs requires a clear acknowledgement and fundamental understanding of the reality of the encroached Internet value chain into telecoms and a detailed assessment of the potential impacts and unintended consequences that an intervention may have. This report unapologetically draws and derives much of its lessons and key messages from data and case studies from several countries around the world. While competitive issues arising from OTT use can be assessed with the current regulatory market definitions and tools, other emerging online technology regulations are required to address online consumer protection, data privacy and cybersecurity.
The report recommends that regulatory interventions concerning OTTs should not deviate from the primary purpose of regulation and should follow best-practice principles. It is important that prior impact assessments are needed. For example, a regulatory impact assessment is the most important tool to estimate the impact on markets and to ensure regulatory principles of proportionate and minimal intervention are met. Regulating OTTs also requires a clear and precise definition of OTT applications and services.