Friend or foe? Competition or complementary? Over the past decade, as operators’ revenues decline despite growing network traffic, the qualities – or otherwise – of OTT providers have continued to be heavily debated. While previously, efforts have been made to form partnerships and play nicely along

Governments across the world need stop ignoring the threat OTT players pose to operators and take steps to ensure they contribute to both networks and the wider economies they are operating in.

This was the resounding message delivered by a number of operators during today’s Total Telecom Congress at a panel discussion entitled ‘Global Telecoms Reimagined: A new telco for a new economy.’

Altice Portugal CEO Alexandre Fonseca was the first to raise concerns around OTT players in regard to operators’ long terms strategies. He said that while telcos like Altice Portugal are starting to promote create a footprint in the OTT space, the conditions remained challenging.

“We need to send a message to decision makers and politicians – they cannot continue to ask for telecom giants and incumbents to continually revamp themselves while the European Commission is looking towards OTT players favourably, forgetting that OTTs are coming in, not paying taxes and using our infrastructure in a competitive way but paying much less,” said Fonseca. “They take advantage of those networks to have a cleaner value chain of distributing and producing content on someone else’s network and they use Quality of Service that requires extremely CapEx-intensive initiatives from telcos. We need to involve politicians and decision makers in Europe and instead of building huge extensive papers about rent sharing on 5G, they should be looking towards OTT players and introducing rules or guidelines.”

Nikima Royer, CEO at Digicel Group, backed up Fonseca’s statement that OTTs posed a threat to the industry. She also called for OTTs to be made to contribute to the economies of the countries they are operating in.

“OTTs are the uninvited guests at the party, they eat our food, drink our drink and then they leave – and they don’t bring a bottle of wine,” she said. “The OTTs are a very serious threat to our industry.”

Royer went on to explain how when Digicel upgraded its networks from copper to full fibre and 2G/3G to 4G LTE after Dominica was devastated by two hurricanes, it also invested significantly into the recovery of the country, building six schools and 100 homes.

“It was important to contribute to the recovery of the country in which we do business,” continued Royer. “These OTT providers contribute absolutely nothing to one single citizen within countries in which they operate. On top of that, we are responsible for ridiculous spectrum fees, in addition to [Universal Service Fund] USF fees, in addition to licensing fees, and in addition to keeping pace with the rate at which technologies advance. [OTTs] have to come to the table and governments and regulators of all our markets have to force them to pay and play their way – and not just financially. They must contribute to countries in which they operate – they have an ethical responsibility to assist in developing, especially in emerging markets which could greatly from additional resources.”

 Elisa CEO Veli-Matti Mattila also revealed he shared similar concerns about OTTs – although admitted to also having to give them credit

“We have to give credit to OTTs – they have been innovative and brought new applications to societies,” he said. “However, a level playing field is important. They were newcomers but today some of the biggest companies are OTTs and they should have and obey a certain level playing field. They have a huge amount of lobbying power in Brussels and we, as an industry, need to put more money and effort in to get a level playing field.”

As the panel discussion concluded, Royer and Fonseca again urged the industry to start the conversation about OTTs with the Government, with Fonseca challenging regulators to really understand the industry they are in.