From protectionist to predator - an industry morphs

Tony Poulos
19 Dec 2013

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the telecommunications industry, mobile operators in particular, have become paranoid about so-called over-the-top (OTT) players, and those very same OTT players have no idea why they are being labeled or singled out as a threat.

It would be fair to say, after meeting many of them in recent months, that they don't even recognize the term or the inference of evil often attached to it. These digital service providers (DSPs), as they should be referred to, are simply doing what they need to do - provide digital services and products to their customers. The fact that their delivery medium happens to be fixed and mobile internet service provider networks is not their concern, and why should it be?

It's difficult to find an analogy to describe the role of networks in the digital era that best explains how DSPs think, but let me try using cars and roads. Without roads cars would be useless. Governments and private corporations build roads that cars drive along. The roads are paid for by the collection of road tax, fuel taxes, tolls, etc - all paid by the car owners. There really is no such thing as a free road. In most countries, if you want to use the fastest route via motorways and super highways, you have to pay more for that privilege.

At no stage, and in no country to my knowledge, does the maker of the car directly pay anyone for the use of those roads - only the users of the roads do. DSPs see themselves as the carmakers of the digital era. Without networks their products and services would be as good as useless, but just like carmakers, they rely on others to build the networks (roads) and for their customers to pay for the privilege of using them.

Is that a fair analogy? Yes, of course it is. Can it be changed, i.e. charge the carmakers for their cars using the roads and the DSPs for their apps and content using any network? Of course not! It's too late for that.

Those toll collectors prefer to see more cars on their highways, and network operators should feel the same way. If the roads become congested, then widen them. If the traffic gets too slow, drivers find alternate routes. If they need to pay more to save time and petrol they do so for the "privilege".

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