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Telcos Renew Push for OTT Regulation

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  • Telcos Renew Push for OTT Regulation

Nigeria telecoms operators have renewed the push to get the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to regulate the activities of Over-The-Top (OTT) players.

The carriers, including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9mobile and others, acting under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), said the time has come for the regulator to re-examine its position on issuing technology neutral licences because of emerging issues in the industry.

Its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, lamented the high mortality rate of telcos. He said the number of operators has dipped by half over the past years because of issues that are not entirely their making.

What is OTT?

Online knowledge bank, Wikipedia, explains that “OTT is where a telecoms service provider delivers one or more services across an IP (internet protocol) network. “The IP networks is predominantly the public internet, although sometimes telco-run cloud services delivered via a corporation’s existing IP-VPN (virtual private network) from another provider, as opposed to the carrier’s own access network. It embraces a variety of telco services including communications (e.g. voice and messaging), content (e.g. TV and music) and cloud-based (e.g. compute and storage) offerings.”

It said stimulated by the availability of high performance fixed and mobile broadband networks as well as the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets, telco-OTT is viewed by a selection of industry analysts and media commentators as the mechanism that mobile network operators need to employ in order to compete with the vast and growing range of over-the-top (OTT) services provided by non-telco companies.

Telco-OTT is a response to the fact that users will have multiple devices (smartphones, laptops or other connected devices such as TVs, games consoles) which almost inevitably will have various different access providers (especially with the growth of public-access Wi-Fi).

According to Wikipedia, to deliver consistent telco-branded services, at some points at least, they will need to be delivered over third-party access, Wikipedia submitted.

ALTON’s position

Adebayo said the regulator has said continuously that it is neutral about technology. This, in essence, means it licences for services and not for technology.

He said today, the reality is that technology is driving the market. It is no longer services. There is a need for the regulator to begin to look at the issue of regulating technology and not services.

For example, OTT as it is called, the likes of YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger and others, all of these are OTT and not part of the core services for which operators are licensed.

“Those kinds of services have a social implication, economic implication, security implication and if they are not licensed, that means they are not regulated and if they are not regulated, there is no limit or scope to what they can do. And no control over their services and content they can provide.

“We are therefore saying there is a need for the regulator to begin to look away from the neutrality of technology and technology certification and regulation than just licensing for service not only because of the social security implication but also because of the economic implication for the operators.

“Today, more people send WhatsApp messages, they send messages over the social media platforms than they do on the conventional SMS platform.

“Operators have been licensed to provide voice, SMS and data services for which they are licensed and being charged annual operating levy. OTT don’t have such and there is even loss of revenue to the regulator of the country too because they are not paying for rendering those services.

“That is why we are saying that our regulator must begin to look away from technology neutrality but Health of the telecoms industry.

He said studies and report had shown that in a market such as Nigeria’s, bigger operators survive better than smaller operators.

“When I took up this role as the Chairman of ALTON, there were 35 companies in our group. Today we are 16, meaning that we have lost half of our members due to problems not of their own making,” he lamented.

He said this might be forces of competition, this might be forces of market forces, the challenges of investing, it might be access to fund, it might be anti-competitive prices of on the part of some of the big players.

“We just think that studies such as the Study of the Level of Competiton in the Telecoms Industry in Nigeria organised by the NCC should dwell into those areas so that we begin to see the issues leading to the death of telecoms companies.

“The challenge we have now with one of the big operators attests to the fact that the industry may not be as healthy as we are thinking and therefore studies such as this are very important first as health check, to see where we are and to see where and how we can further adjust and tune things for a more competitive industry and for a more robust market and for the greater interest of the consumers,” Adebayo said.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Visa and Mastercard Face Setback as Judge Indicates Likely Rejection of $30 Billion Deal

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Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. are facing a potential setback as a federal judge in Brooklyn indicated she is likely to reject their $30 billion settlement with retailers.

The deal, aimed at capping credit-card swipe fees, has been a focal point of contention between the card giants and merchants for years.

Judge Margo Brodie of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York expressed skepticism about the settlement during a hearing on Thursday.

According to court records, Judge Brodie suggested she might not approve the agreement, stating she would issue a written decision in the coming days.

Retailers have long campaigned to reduce their share of the costs associated with accepting card payments, known as interchange fees.

These fees, which are partially passed on to banks that issue the cards, including major institutions like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., have been a burden for many merchants.

Announced in March and pending court approval, the settlement was designed to allow merchants to charge consumers extra for transactions involving Visa or Mastercard credit cards.

The agreement also aimed to introduce pricing tactics to steer consumers towards lower-cost cards.

“The court’s comments strongly suggest that she won’t accept the settlement,” noted Justin Teresi, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “While Judge Brodie doesn’t seem convinced that larger retailers should be allowed to opt out from the settlement, provisions like changes to digital wallet acceptance rules and some state bans on surcharges likely present real adequacy issues.”

Both Visa and Mastercard expressed disappointment over the developments. A Mastercard representative stated, “We believe the settlement presented a fair resolution of this long-standing dispute, most notably by giving business owners more flexibility in how they manage their card acceptance activities. We will pursue our options to ensure a proper resolution of this matter.”

Visa’s spokesperson echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that “continued engagement between industry and the merchants is the best way forward.”

Swipe fees have become a substantial financial issue for retailers, totaling more than $160 billion last year, according to the Merchants Payments Coalition. Reactions to the settlement were mixed when it was announced, with some retail coalitions pledging a thorough review and others quickly opposing it.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, representing large merchants such as Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc., described the settlement as a “mere drop in the bucket” and urged careful review to assess if it adequately addresses the harm inflicted on retailers.

Doug Kantor, general counsel for the National Association of Convenience Stores, praised the judge’s remarks, stating, “We’re gratified to see that the court recognized how bad this settlement was.”

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Norwegian Watchdog Slams Meta for Cumbersome Opt-Out Process in AI Training Plans

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Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is facing a new legal challenge in Norway over its plans to utilize user images and posts to train artificial intelligence (AI) models.

The Norwegian Consumer Council has lodged a complaint, criticizing Meta’s cumbersome and deceptive opt-out process, which it argues breaches stringent EU data protection regulations.

The Council’s statement on Thursday highlighted that Meta’s method for allowing users to opt out of data collection for AI training is overly complicated and intentionally confusing.

“The process to opt-out breaches strict EU data protection rules and has been made deliberately cumbersome by using deceptive design patterns and vague wording,” the Council said.

This isn’t Meta’s first run-in with European regulators regarding data privacy. The tech giant has previously faced multiple complaints for allegedly failing to obtain proper consent from users before collecting their data to target advertisements.

Also, the European Union’s top court has warned Meta about safeguarding public information on users’ sexual orientation from being used for personalized advertising.

“We are urging the Data Protection Authority to assess the legality of Meta’s practices and to ensure that the company is operating in compliance with the law,” stated Inger Lise Blyverket, head of the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The complaint was prepared by the European Center for Digital Rights and will be submitted to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, as well as other European data protection authorities.

Due to Meta’s EU base in Dublin, the Irish Data Protection Commission will serve as the lead authority in this matter.

The outcome of this complaint could have significant implications for how Meta, and other tech companies, handle user data within the EU.

Meta’s use of user data for training AI has raised significant privacy concerns. Critics argue that without clear and straightforward consent mechanisms, users are often unaware of how their data is being used.

This latest complaint underscores the ongoing tension between big tech companies and European regulators striving to enforce robust privacy standards.

The Norwegian Consumer Council’s action reflects a growing impatience with tech giants’ data practices, emphasizing the need for transparency and user control.

As AI technologies continue to advance, ensuring ethical and lawful data usage remains a critical challenge for both companies and regulators.

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Ethio Telecom Sale to Foreign Bidders Halted; Local Investors to Get Priority

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Ethiopia has decided to halt the sale of its state-owned telecommunications operator, Ethio Telecom, to foreign investors.

Instead, the government will prioritize domestic retail investors before listing the company on the nation’s upcoming securities exchange.

Originally, the Ethiopian government planned to sell 45% of Ethio Telecom to foreign investors. This approach was abandoned in November after Orange SA, a major contender, withdrew from the bidding process.

Emirates Telecommunications Group Co. was also rumored to have considered a bid but did not proceed.

“There were bidders, but each one of them has left the process at one point,” said Abdurehman Eid, CEO of Ethiopian Investment Holdings, which is overseeing the sale along with the finance ministry. “At the end, we felt it’s probably better to halt the process.”

Eid explained that foreign interest did not meet Ethiopia’s expectations. “The priority now is to expedite the sale of 10% to retail investors, who are showing a huge appetite,” he noted during an interview at a sovereign wealth fund conference in Mauritius.

The focus on foreign investors will resume after Ethio Telecom is listed on the Ethiopian Securities Exchange (ESX), set to commence operations in October.

Ethio Telecom, the largest telecommunications operator in Africa’s second most-populous country, had a monopoly for decades. By January, the company boasted 74.6 million subscribers and recorded a profit of 11 billion birr ($191.6 million) for the first half of the fiscal year.

The shift in strategy underscores Ethiopia’s intention to leverage domestic investment capacity. The decision to prioritize local investors aligns with broader economic goals, aiming to stimulate local participation in major economic sectors.

This move is part of a larger plan to list five other state-owned companies on the ESX. According to Eid, proceeds from these divestitures will be utilized to reduce public debt.

Over the years, enterprises controlled by the government have accumulated substantial debt, leading to financial struggles.

The Liability Asset Management Corp., established three years ago, currently manages close to 780 billion birr in debt.

By redirecting the sale of Ethio Telecom shares to local investors, Ethiopia is fostering a more inclusive investment environment and setting a precedent for future listings.

The new strategy is expected to enhance domestic capital markets and provide more opportunities for Ethiopian citizens to invest in the country’s economic future.

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