Germany wants OTT service providers should be regulated like telcos

Businessman talking on phone

German authorities want mobile instant messaging and email service providers to be regulated to the same degree as telecommunications companies.

The Bundesnetzagentur, or Federal Network Agency, argues that the lines between over the top (OTT) services like Gmail and WhatsApp and traditional call and text applications have become blurred to the point that many consumers might not notice the difference.

It is currently locked in a legal battle with Google, with the agency believing that Gmail should be registered as a telco service. This would mean additional obligations, such as making data available to law enforcement agencies.

German OTT regulation

The case is currently with the European Court of Justice and the head of the agency told the FT that if it is victorious, there could be a wider clampdown on tech giants.

“It cannot be right that a company providing traditional telecommunications services has to meet certain regulatory requirements, like those concerning data protection, while a company providing comparable services over the web does not,” Jochen Homann, president of the Bundesnetzagentur, told the newspaper in an interview.

The comments will be music to the ears of mobile and broadband providers. For years, the telecoms industry has complained about over the top (OTT) applications such as WhatsApp and Skype encroaching on their territory, yet not being subject to the same stringent regulations that operators are.

Telcos argue that this results in an uneven playing field at a time when intense competition and shrinking traditional revenues are affecting balance sheets.

In the UK, the average monthly amount spent on mobile services is falling. According to ReportLinker, in 2016 the figure was £43.55 while the 2018 figure will be £41.12. This is set to fall again to £38.89 in 2020.

British mobile users are increasingly turning to WhatsApp and other chat applications instead of texts. In 2016, 89 billion SMS messages were sent but this is set to fall to 64 billion in 2018. In 2020, the figure is expected to be 40 billion.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.