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Friday, June 28, 2024

PTA proposes new regulatory framework for OTT services

The PTA has introduced a draft regulatory framework for OTT services, proposing a 15-year license for these services in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has introduced a draft regulatory framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) services, proposing a 15-year license for these services in Pakistan. The draft, now available on the PTA’s website, invites public and stakeholder comments for the next 14 days. This framework aims to establish a structured regulatory environment to foster the development and management of OTT services in the country.

Defining OTT Services

OTT services, as defined in the draft framework, encompass any applications or services provided over the Internet, either with or without the involvement of network providers. These services are divided into three distinct categories:

  1. OTT Communication Services (OCS): These include real-time voice, video, and messaging services that utilize the internet instead of traditional telephone networks. Examples include WhatsApp, Skype, and Zoom.
  2. OTT Application Services (OAS): These are applications that do not replace traditional telecom services but include social networking, e-commerce, e-health, e-education, and navigation apps like Google Maps.
  3. OTT Media Services (OMS): This category involves audio and video streaming services. OMS is further subdivided into Broadcasting OTT Media Services, regulated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), such as PTV and ARY NEWS, and Non-Broadcasting OTT Media Services, including YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify.

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Regulatory Responsibilities

According to the draft framework, the PTA will be responsible for the registration and authorization of OTT services, excluding broadcasting media services, which will be regulated by PEMRA. The PTA and other relevant government bodies will also handle content monitoring and removal, ensuring compliance with national regulations.

Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) wishing to offer OTT communication services must obtain authorization from the PTA. Alternatively, OTT service providers can directly apply for a 15-year license to operate in Pakistan. This approach aims to streamline the regulatory process and provide clarity for service providers.

Implications for Digital Services

The proposed framework has sparked concerns about the future of digital services in Pakistan. The licensing requirement and stringent regulations may discourage some companies from operating in the country. Critics question the stability of the regulatory environment, citing past incidents where services were banned without warning, such as the case with X (formerly Twitter).

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While the framework is designed to support the growth of OTT services, there is apprehension that it could inadvertently slow down the sector’s development. The potential for sudden service bans and the administrative burden of obtaining licenses may deter new entrants and affect the overall digital ecosystem in Pakistan.