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Technology / Networks

EU to extend telecoms regulation to WhatsApp and OTT providers

Online services such as WhatsApp are set to fall under new rules as the European Union extends the scope of telecoms regulation.

The services will have to abide by new security and confidentiality provisions, the Financial Times reported.

The new rules will focus on how services such as WhatsApp comply with requests from security agencies and how companies use customer data.

Services that let users dial a phone number online may be affected by the rules currently governing phone use, according to the internal documents.

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However, call services that don’t such as Skype will not be affected.

An announcement on the new rules will be issued in September by the European Commission, with the full rules published later in the year.

Telecoms companies have been complaining about the privileged status enjoyed by ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook’s Messenger.

The OTT providers often provide communication services, but are not subject to the same level of regulation as traditional telecoms companies. They use telecoms infrastructure, often competing with the telecoms companies.

As well as calling for a level playing field, the telecoms companies have been clamouring for reducing the regulatory burden placed on them.

In July, documents seen by the Financial Times and signed by 17 telecoms groups, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telecom Italia, promised to bring 5G access to at least one city in every EU country by 2020.

In exchange, they ask for lighter touch regulation, saying that Net Neutrality guidelines as they stand create "significant uncertainties around 5G return on investment."

Also in July, a large coalition of tech and telecoms companies called on the European Commission to scrap the e-Privacy Directive, which governs the use of internet cookies and spam.

The companies called for the e-Privacy Directive to be evaluated and replaced with a "simple, clear and horizontal approach to digital regulation".
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