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Does WhatsApp Need Regulation?

By Dane Avanzi

As the poet Cazuza said “Time does not stop”. This was the case in the 1990s and when it came to technological innovations in telecommunications, it ceased to be poetry and became a principle. Increasingly, the life cycle of innovations becomes shorter. Does anyone remember the first social network, Orkut, whose launch, heyday, and decline occurred in less than a decade? However, while some come and go quickly, others arrive and consolidate, such as Skype, an application that makes voice calls, text (SMS), video conferencing and works on both mobile devices and any computer.

By the way, this type of application, by guaranteeing economic or free calls at lower prices than traditional operators, not only consolidated, but also won competitors, such as Viber and WhatsApp, for example. Called Ott’s, short for “Over The Top,” such applications make calls to mobile phones using carrier data packages.

It is not from today that the discussion about the legality or otherwise of this type of application, which steals revenues from mobile operators, has been growing. And it’s not for less. We are talking about a billion dollar market all over the planet. According to ITU – International Telecommunication Union, the UN agency specialized in the subject, 3.2 billion people will use the Internet (fixed and mobile) worldwide by the end of 2015, almost half of Earth’s population.

Also according to ITU estimates and statistics, 3G coverage of mobile internet worldwide grew from 45% in 2011 to 69% in 2015. Another data pointed out in the report is the 47% increase in access preference of mobile internet users. , which has grown seven times in relation to the number of mobile accesses since 2007. Another statistic is that only 1/3 of the planet’s population has access to mobile internet, that is, the market still has a lot to grow.

Such data outlines a future scenario with an increasing number of people connecting broadband via mobile devices. In the face of it, it’s no wonder that major mobile industry leaders have spoken out against OTT applications, such as Vivo President Amos Genish, who recently called WhatsApp a pirate operator. However, for TIM and Claro, OTT’s apparently do not bother, as they recently announced promotions in which hiring a minimal data packet access to WhattsApp and social networks is free. The subject is complex and it is not only the operators who diverge, federal authorities as well. Last week, Minister Ricardo Berzoini stated that Netflix and WhatsApp should be regulated, while Anatel President Joao Rezende says the service (Whattsapp) is already regular.

And the consumer, how is this story? I think your preference for applications that are global in scope and allow significant savings for mobile prepaid and postpaid plan users should be taken into account. As for carriers, I understand that it has protected itself by increasing the prices of data plans, including blocking the customer’s plan and obliquely forcing it to migrate to a more expensive plan. Aside from this, the fact that some offer free access to major social networks and applications may rather intensify competition between mobile operators, which should be one of Anatel’s main goals as a regulator.

Dane Avanzi is a lawyer, telecommunications entrepreneur and President of Aerbras – Association of Radiocommunication Companies of Brazil.

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