More Regulation for Skype, WhatsApp in EU?

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source: Ali Saghaeian
Even if one believes that telecommunications policy should treat all similar services provided by similar entities in a similar way, there are two basic approaches to achieve those ends.

Regulators can lessen rules on incumbents, to match rules applied to new competitors, or apply incumbent rules to new providers. In the European Union, it appears telecom regulators are preparing to apply some rules to over-the-top voice and messaging apps.

source: Ali Saghaeian
Incumbent telecom providers have argued for nearly two decades that over-the-top voice and messaging services such as Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s WhatsApp are functional substitutes for carrier voice and messaging, and should be covered by the same rules applied to carrier voice.

It can be argued that OTT messaging and voice are imperfect, or only partial substitutes, with limitations. Skype is further along the process of supporting communications on an “any-to-any” basis. WhatsApp still remains a social app, requiring all users to join the community to use the app.

On the other hand, the range of functionality keeps increasing.

Skype may have to offer emergency-calling services for European customers. In cases where it assigns users telephone numbers—allowing for the receipt of calls from traditional phones—it could also be required to let those users take their numbers with them if they decide to move to a different provider.

WhatsApp could be subject to new rules on network security.

Whether one agrees that OTT apps are full functional substitutes or not, regulators have a choice: lighten burdens or increase them, to “level the playing field.”

Some of us would argue that less regulation makes sense for products in decline, as characterizes the voice and messaging services business.

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