Key stakeholders of the telecommunications industry have discussed two possible regulatory interventions at a Digital Family Forum (DFF) in Accra focused on Domestic Roaming and Over the Top (OTT) services.
The DFF, which was organised under the auspices of the Ministry of Communications and the National Communications Authority (NCA), formed part of activities marking the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day which fell on May 17, 2016.
Discussants at the forum considered a Domestic Roaming Policy for Ghana in view of the fact that there are areas unreached by telecommunication services.
The Minister of Communications, Dr Edward Kofi Omane Boamah, who was the guest of honour at the forum, said, “One major aim of President Mahama’s government, beyond the efforts being made by the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), is to consider the case for Domestic Roaming.”
“This service will enable mobile users to switch from one network to the other in the event of network failure. Furthermore, this will ultimately be of advantage to the police and other security officers in the event of crisis and mass information,” he said.
Dr Omane Boamah added that the purpose of the forum was to afford stakeholders the opportunity to take stock of where the telecommunications was as an industry and find ways of improving and enhancing its relationships, services and products for the collective good of society.
The first panel, consisting of representatives from NCA, Ghana Technology University College (GTUC), and the Ghana Chamber of Telecom, focused on Domestic Roaming from the consumer, regulator and operator’s perspectives, outlining the advantages and disadvantages to them and the way forward for the industry. All panel members agreed that there was a need to provide telephony services to underserved and unserved areas to achieve the objective of universal access to communication.
Presenting the operators’ perspective, Mr Kwaku Sakyi Addo, the Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Telecom, said domestic roaming would not address black spots and described that as complex, expensive and not commercially viable.
Touching on the consumer’s perspective, Dr Ezer Yeboah-Boateng shared his belief that national roaming would be effective in addressing underserved and unserved areas or in providing better coverage and citizens would benefit from fewer rural towers.
For his part, Mr Edmund Fianko of the NCA, who presented the regulator’s perspective, stated that in considering the objectives of universal access to telephony services in underserved areas, the authority recommended a national roaming policy that had both mandatory and optional components.
He, however, noted that there were issues that required further technical and financial analyses.
For the second session, the panel, consisting of representatives from NCA and Wireless Application Services Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG), considered the possibility of regulating the OTT services. Discussions on the topic bordered on global trends, opportunities and threats, regulatory imbalances and benchmarking from other jurisdictions.
All two panellists insisted that OTT services should not be banned as pertained in other countries. They, however, agreed that the industry needed to consider the type and level of regulations needed in order not to stifle innovation and deprive consumers of the benefits of using the services.
Regulations not a ban
An animated discussion on OTT services by various stakeholders at the forum also compelled officials of the NCA to reiterate that the telecommunications regulator did not intend to ban their use. OTT services refer to the various applications and innovations in use by many telephone subscribers and include Whatsapp, Viber and Skype calls, among other services.
The forum was a platform which enabled the NCA to have access to other stakeholders’ views.
The theme for the commemoration was: “ICT entrepreneurship for social impact”, while the national theme was “Addressing challenges of the communications industry to promote growth and development — Focus on domestic roaming and Over-The-Top (OTT) services.”