According to revised Telecom Policy 2015, that has been approved by ECC, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has been mandated to revise licensing framework for telecommunication services in the country to particularly include selected OTT services into the telecom licensing regime.
Once new licensing framework is finalized by PTA, certain OTT services (WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook etc.) are likely to be asked to obtain license from regulator in order to operate in Pakistan.
Section 5.2.5 of Telecom Policy says:
In developing the new licensing regime interalia the following should be taken into account:
Section 20 of the Telecom Act, and in particular, which over-the-top services should be licensed under a “general authorisation” in which a service provider is deemed to hold a license by virtue of the services that it provides and is then subject to the terms of that general authorisation, which may include national security requirements;
In simpler words, PTA will determine licensing terms for certain OTT services — based on criteria that is yet unknown — and will make it mandatory for such selected OTT services to get a license before operating in Pakistan.
Moreover, these certain OTT services will be licensed only after they agree to terms (outlined by PTA), which may include national security requirements or lawful interception.
You can download the copy of Telecom Policy of Pakistan (2015) by clicking this link (PDF File – 1.21MB).
It is still unclear that which OTT services would be asked to get the license.
Experts are saying that it is a mindless approach to regulate OTT service for two reasons, i) there’s no way to implement this policy, ii) it will help no one including consumers, telcos, regulator or any other entity.
While we don’t know that which OTT services are going to get regulated under this new policy, experts think that Government is likely to hunt down these communication apps (WhatsApp, Facebook etc.) that are ruling the communication mediums.
PTA will determine licensing terms for certain OTT services and will make it mandatory for such selected OTT services to get a license before operating in Pakistan
Salman Ansari, who played a key role in developing previous Telecom Policy in 2003, said that no government in world regulates OTT services, simply because there’s no effective way of doing it.
“The moment you block a service, such as you did with YouTube, users will start tunneling through VPNs and proxies it to get it unblocked”, explained Mr. Ansari.
Another expert, who wanted to remain unnamed, said that this seems to be an ambitious effort for bringing OTT services to agree on government’s terms for lawful interception, which wouldn’t be a good idea considering that Pakistan is a third-world country and global internet companies that operate these OTT services wouldn’t even listen to such requests, let alone honor them.
“Blackberry is an example; we saw that how such interception requests backfired and instead of any good caused us more harm in shape of negative press; no one respects such rules”, opined the expert.
Salman Ansari thinks that if government had bothered taking input from relevant stakeholders before drafting this policy, it would have saved itself from national and international embarrassment.
It merits mentioning here that Telecom Policy 2015 has been approved by Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and is now set to get implemented through new regulations made by respective authorities.
Also Read: An Overview of Telecom Policy 2015