If the French regulator forces Skype to register as a telco. it wil reflect badly on France, says Andreas Bernstrom
News from France this week that regulator ARCEP is reporting Skype to the public prosecutor will come as no real surprise to anyone who follows European technology news.
ARCEP alleges that Skype has failed to register as a telecommunications operator as per French law despite repeated requests. Telecom operators claim it is unfair they are subjected to certain regulations in regards to data privacy, taxation and provision of emergency services that VoIP companies are not.
Twitter and Google have come under huge pressure from French legislators and regulators for a variety of matters. Most notably Google controversially agreed to set up an $82 million fund to support media companies after accusations they were exploiting other people’s content.
In many ways, France is becoming a symbolic battleground in the clash between digital and traditional business models. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the clash between operators and OTT (Over The Top) services such as VoIP providers.
After decades of sitting comfortably on the communications throne, operators have suddenly found that they are having to share their seat with others. It’s not a situation they are enjoying and the latest news in France is in some ways an inevitable response to their dilemma.
Caught on the hop by the innovation from OTT services, operators are seeing the new world order is taking some getting used to. In the next couple of years it is estimated that 21 percent of European operators’ voice revenue will be lost to OTT services (according to Telco 2.0). A report from analysts Ovum claims VoIP will cost the global telecoms industry $479 billion in lost revenues from 2012 to 2020.
Fairness benefits all
At present the lack of unified regulations from governments on VoIP services is helping neither OTT services or operators. The EU needs to see the developments in France as a wake up call to standardise communication and internet regulation across the board.
Europe cannot afford to fall behind in the global technology race due to the lobbying of once great industries that are clamouring to protect their status and position.
Rather than throwing around threats and lawsuits, governments should look to see how best they can use the new world order to increase their economy’s innovation and output. Running industry and finance on a reactive basis is never a good way to lead. Increasing restrictions and red tape on the burgeoning technology scene will only see one real loser: the consumer or business user.
If French regulators push too hard, VoIP services like Skype could in theory cease to operate in the country. Such a scenario would be hugely damaging to France’s business, economy and even their reputation. Technologies like VoIP are vital tools in modern life and play a huge part in many firms’ communication and company culture.
Governments could do a lot worse than ask not what modern technology can do for them, but what they can do for modern technology.