Rene Arnold and Anna Schneider explore the level playing field debate on OTT services from a consumer perspective
The new proposal for establishing a European electronic communications code indicates that the European Commission intends to broaden the definition of communications services. This implies treating over the top (OTT) services the same as (legacy) electronic communications services (ECS) under the new regulatory framework. Following the arguments of the level playing field debate, the Commission appears to be saying that WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger and others have to comply with the same rules as ECS. These include legal intercept, interoperability and similar rules. Interestingly, the fundamental premise on which this decision rests is their similarity in functionality - ie. you can use Skype to make calls, or WhatsApp to text.
Allegedly, the secret behind the success of OTT services is that they offer the same functionality
at no or negligible monetary cost to consumers.
A study that we conducted in Germany based on a representative survey of German consumers and 28 semi-structured interviews disputes this premise. It highlights that consumers opt for OTT services because of the additional functionalities they offer, and not simply because they now can text ‘for free’. Consumers send pictures, videos, voice and video messages, and more. In fact, they craft completely new audiovisual communication experiences – a practice also observed in a study on need fulfillment and experiences on social media.
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