Google’s plans to provide free internet across Nigeria is facing some serious challenge presently from Nigerian telecom industry regulator, the NCC.
Over the last few years, Google has been on an endless pursuit to provide free internet to Nigeria and the developing world. Under its Google Station program, the company has launched free internet services across five countries including Nigeria. Google Station debuted its free internet services in Lagos in July 2018. It has since expanded its reach to Abuja and plans to spread to over 200 micro-locations across the country.
According to a complaint which was issued to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), Google’s free Wi-Fi offer in the country could be illegal and obscured by conditions that do not grant the NCC supervisory rights.— Ugodre (@ugodre) February 24, 2019
However, Google’s plans could be scuttled as the NCC aims to bring it under its control.
In a letter to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) under the Vice President, the NCC expressed concerns that Google’s free wifi plan could be illegal.
“Google is operating in Nigeria without being licensed by the commission, ” the NCC wrote. “The implications [are] that it does not pay applicable fees, levies and taxes that are paid by other players in the telecommunication sector.”
The commission also raised concerns about the structure of Google’s free wifi services. It said it had requested information on how Google uses SMS for users’ Two-Factor Authentications. However, Google is yet to provide this information.
The challenge from NCC is the latest move to control Google’s free wifi program in Nigeria. In January 2019, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) began enforcing the Public Internet Access (PIA) regulation framework. The framework controls how public internet service providers collect and store user data.
Yet, the latest NCC challenge represents a big issue. And it inadvertently invites discussions about how free internet disrupts the telecom industry.
Over the years, telcos have lost a huge chunk of their voice revenue to free internet services like Facebook and Whatsapp. But data services are now the next big frontier for telcos. With telcos already investing heavily in data infrastructure, Google’s free internet represents a threat to their last business models.
Meanwhile, for Google, free internet is always a good thing. With the bulk of its revenue coming from advertising, Google has the opportunity to make more money if it gets more internet users. Plus, if Google can help people save on their data spendings, they can consume internet contents from YouTube or spend more money on ecommerce.
So for the NCC, regulating Google’s free internet is a must. Stepping up to demand it falls back in line is a necessary measure to protect telcos. How it does that is yet to be seen.
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