Rise of Whatsapp could require regulatory reform: ACMA

Over-the-top messaging overtakes SMS

Don't see many of these anymore.

Don't see many of these anymore.

Regulators should review telecom regulation as more consumers replace traditional telephony with over-the-top (OTT) services, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The ACMA made the suggestion in a white paper released today, Six emerging trends in media and communications.

“As consumers expand their communications service options, there is a risk of both misalignment between regulatory settings and market realities, and of misplaced regulatory emphasis on services that make up a declining percentage of total communications activity,” the ACMA wrote.

In response to the trend, the ACMA said policymakers could:

  • reduce regulation or identify alternative means of achieving policy objectives
  • remove regulation that is no longer relevant or effective
  • update regulation to reflect environmental realities

Australian wired telecom network revenue has declined 34 per cent from $18.2 billion in 2008 to $12 billion in 2013, the ACMA said.

The agency attributed the change to fixed-mobile substitution and increased adoption of VoIP and OTT messaging apps. Over the same period as fixed prices fell, wireless carrier revenue increased from $16 billion to $20 billion, it said.

Also, from December 2013 to August 2014, monthly active users of WhatsApp grew by 200 million globally to 600 million.

“Globally, the volume of OTT mobile messages sent has overtaken SMS traffic, while the number of Australian home VoIP users has grown to nearly half the number of fixed-line phone services,” the ACMA wrote.

“Historically, telecommunications regulation has covered voice communications delivered over the copper network, but this now represents a declining set of communications services. These OTT developments suggest it is timely to look again at how existing communications protections might align with emerging OTT consumer behaviour.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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