Why convergence of broadcasting, telecommunication shouldn’t be ignored
”AS long as broadcasting and telecommunication are separately regulated, the scramble for spectrum will continue to be a major issue in Nigeria.”
With this concluding remark, Secretary-General Elect, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Shola Taylor has underscored the need to have one regulatory authority for ICT practices and operations in the country.
The broadcast industry in Nigeria, Taylor insisted, would be better off under a converged regulator. While broadcasting and telecommunication, in many countries of the world, operate under a converged environment, Nigeria remains one of the very few countries where the two entities still exist separately in spite of the revolutionary advancement in digital technology which has made convergence inevitable.
Taylor spoke recently at the first Annual Lecture of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) with the theme, New Media, Convergence and the Future of Broadcasting: Greedy Telcos, Naïve Broadcasters and the Scramble for Spectrum.
The communication expert who is going to resume his new office at CTO headquarters in London on September 17, 2015 began his presentation with a brief history of the organization saying, “founded in 1901, CTO is an international treaty organisation of the Commonwealth family mandated in telecommunications and ICTs in which the 53-Commonwealth countries, industry and some other Non-Commonwealth counties are members.
Through this membership network, the CTO facilitates policy and regulatory dialogues aimed at improving the utilisation of ICTs for development.”
The lecture, which coincided with the NBC’s 23rd anniversary celebration, had a topic, which, according to Taylor, is not only provocative, it could also be misconstrued to aim at portraying industry players – broadcasters and telcos – in bad light. “But rather than request the organisers to change the topic, I convinced myself that in a gathering of this nature, a topic like this provides a unique opportunity to address some very salient issues facing our industry today.
It is also my view that the intent of the organisers was not to cast the industry players in any negative light but to allow the participants to address some of the burning issues related to the ICT sector.
To that extent, let me congratulate the organisers for this very provocative topic,” he said. As reflected in the title of the lecture, Taylor anchored his submission on six elements including new media, convergence, emerging telecommunication environment, trends in the broadcast industry, scramble for spectrum, and the future of broadcasting.
New Media, he said, “is a term commonly used to refer to content which is available on-demand through the Internet and which can be accessed on any digital device, with some level of interactivity.
New media promotes dialogue or conversation and enables people from across the globe to share content and dialogue on a wide variety of issues.”
The 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria, Taylor argued, witnessed an unprecedented level of dialogue especially amongst young potential voters. He believed the election was won and lost on the social media, saying, “such is the powerful influence of the new media.” He gave examples of new media to include online newspapers, blogs and social media.
He cautioned that unlike traditional media such as TV programmes, feature films, books and magazines, “new media is not regulated and thus its content has the characteristic of being manipulated.”
New media, he noted, has grown because of the Internet. “The Internet today has become a very viable delivery mechanism for audio and video broadcast services whether it is live programmes, social media or on-demand services.
The quality of the programmes are also improving with incremental improvements in new technologies. “New media provides consumers today with unprecedented opportunities – to choose how they watch their programmes – either through traditional ‘linear’ broadcast of a news bulletin or by instant access to individual news items as may be determined by the user rather than the news editor,” he said.
While convergence may mean different things to different people, the advent of digital technology, he said, has resulted in the blurring of hitherto three distinct industries of telecommunications, computers and broadcasting. He identified three types of convergence: technological, market and consumer.
While technological convergence refers to the ability of any infrastructure to transport any type of data – video and voice – to a unique device which is able to execute a multiplicity of tasks, market convergence relates to how telecommunications businesses are being revolutionized by rapid adoption of Internet Protocol (IP) based networks which are propelling the convergence of previously distinct information and communications technologies (ICTs). “Telephone and broadcasting industries are entering each other’s markets, while technology is blurring the difference between conduit systems such as wireless and wire line,” Taylor said.
He gave the analogy of using smart phone as a computer, telephone tool and also a device to receive audio and TV programmes as an example of consumer convergence.
There are many implications of convergence, Taylor however laid emphasis on three: “Any telephone operator today has the ability to provide video services to its clients, and any broadcaster today can provide internet access using the TV.
In developed countries, we are witnessing a growing number of alliances, partnerships and mergers in the three industries. “All these developments pose challenges to the industry and it is important to ensure that policy and regulatory regimes are able to respond in a timely fashion to new technology and market developments and to promote the flexibility of technology choice and service provision for the consumer.
Thus the neutrality of policies and regulatory regimes towards the technology platform is a desirable attribute; any efforts to maintain barriers across such segments will definitely be overwhelmed by technology.
In this vein, Governments need to be aware of what is happening so that they can create the necessary policies which are to be carried out by the regulators.
The bottom line here is that Policy and Regulation should follow convergence rather than the other way around. There is now also a tendency for service providers to bundle different services, thus creating difficulties in regulating them as separate entities.”
With the objective to attract investments in the ICT sector, protect such investments under a fair competitive environment regime and protect the consumer, many countries, the new CTO scribe noted, have put ICT sector under one regulator, contrary to what is obtainable in Nigeria where broadcasting, telecommunications and internet sectors are still largely separately regulated. “This current situation is not only detrimental to the growth of the ICT industry but is a disservice to the Nigerian consumer,” Taylor warned.
In Nigeria, he recalled, “successive governments have set up Committees to consider the issue of convergence of our ICT regulatory institutions.
Unfortunately, no government to date has had the political will to implement the recurring recommendation of all such committees to converge our regulatory institutions.” Convergence of both markets and technology, he insisted, “is a global reality and Nigeria cannot afford to ignore this reality.
Convergence promotes efficiencies in several ways including spectrum utilization efficiency. Other benefits include creation of jobs and new markets (e.g., internet for access, content, and backbone infrastructure); increased consumer choice and cultural diversity and increased competition.”
Taylor tasked the new government on the need to “embark on the comprehensive review of the individual Acts for telecommunications, broadcasting and mass communication, with a view to creating a new umbrella Act to cover the ICT sector and repeal the individual Acts accordingly.”
That work, he argued, would provide a modern ICT framework that will take the country forward and allow the full benefits of ICTs to be realized. “It is reasonable to envisage a timeframe of approximately two years to complete this assignment. In the event that the new Nigerian government decides to take that route, the CTO would be prepared to assist within the framework of capacity building.”
While decrying the failure of Nigeria (and most African countries) to beat the digital transition deadline of June 17, 2015 as mandated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Taylor urged the Federal Government and the NBC to ensure that the new deadline of 20 June 2017 fixed by ECOWAS is fully respected.
Mr. Shola Taylor served as technical consultant to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria empanelled by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008.
The committee designed a comprehensive and workable roadmap that could have seen Nigeria transited digitally by June 17, 2012, but for lack of political will on the part of the new administration of Goodluck Jonathan that took over after the death of Yar’Adua, the effort was frustrated and the country is yet to get out of the quagmire.