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Twitter ban: FG’s directive triggers regulatory battle

The recent directive of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on the regulation of Over the Top (OTT) players in the country has created regulatory confusion. This came as ICT industry stakeholders faulted the minister for transferring the functions of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to the broadcast regulator.

The directive on the regulation of OTTs, which include the likes of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, among several others, came on the heels of government’s ban of the microblogging site, Twitter, which is also an OTT platform. According to the minister of information, NBC has been directed “to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.” However, according to the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan, the directive is rather creating confusion in the telecom sector.

“It is worrisome that this directive is coming from the Ministry of Information to NBC and asking them to licence the OTTs and people providing services over the internet. “This is weird because the OTTs do not fall under the jurisdiction of NBC, they are under the regulatory supervision of NCC,” he said. Section 4(1e) of the Nigeria Communications Act 2003 mandates NCC to issue all communications licences in the country. Section 32 (1) of the same Act states that “the Commission shall issue communications licences for the operation and provision of communications services or facilities by way of class or individual licences on such terms and conditions as the Commission may from time to time determine, taking into consideration the objectives of this Act and the provisions of section 33(3) of this Act.”

Before now, telecom operators in the country had called on NCC to regulate the OTTs, which they claimed had been eating deep into their revenue through their ‘free’ call services. The regulator had, however, pointed that the OTTs had been driving the increase in data usage by telecom subscribers. According to NCC, regulating OTTs would amount to stifling innovation and denying many Nigerians the opportunity to explore the digital space. However, the ban of Twitter and the directive from the min-ister of information has brought to the fore the OTT regulation issue again. Aside from the confusion over who is to regulate, industry stakeholders said Nigeria has joined the infamous club of countries limiting the use of social media through the Twitter ban and the planned regulation of OTTs. Examples of countries in this category include China, which went the hard way by blocking all the OTTs, which means nobody in the country can use WhatsApp, Facebook or Skype, among others, but other platforms created in the country.

Some other countries in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirate (UAE), partially blocked OTTs as users can only chat, but cannot do anything video or voice call. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s economy continues to suffer huge loss as the Twitter ban continues. According to a global internet mapping platform, Netblocks. org, the country loses N90.7 million every hour as the ban subsists. The platform automatically aggregates the cost of shutdown tools and estimates the economic impacts of internet disruption, mobile data blackouts, or app restrictions using indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat, and US census as the case may be. The platform said it relied on booking institution methods which relied on development indicators, approximated digital economy extent of 0.05 and classic free app GDP impact technique to arrive at its conclusion. Many Nigerian businesses depend on Twitter to advertise their products and services, while an industry of ‘influencers’ has been created via the microblogging platforms, providing digital jobs for many young Nigerians. However, with the ban, ICT industry analysts said thousands of jobs would be lost.

 

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