Telecom companies in the region are adopting an increasingly muscular approach - with the backing of national telecom laws - to lower the quality and speed of online video services, according to an industry expert.
Sam Blatteis, CEO of regional public policy advisory and research firm The Mena Catalysts, who is also the former head of government affairs and public policy for Gulf Countries at Google, told Gulf News, that as data consumption rises, so will economic incentives for telecom companies to slow video media (Netflix and Skype for instance) that clog up their broadband that don’t compensate them (the telecoms) directly.
“Some governments will adopt a customer-first approach like we saw Saudi Arabia telling Saudi telecoms that they must treat all data traffic equally and not discriminate based on who is their business partner and who is not, while other regional governments continue to follow their incumbent telecom laws that allow telcos to lower the quality and speed of online video platforms,” he said.
Globally, 16 countries have established a clear and simple policy for “net neutrality”, which means that the internet has become a public utility, not private property for telecom companies to do as they please.
Blatteis said that it’s too early to tell about the UAE, but anecdotally, many people say that they already see this with more latency, longer delays and load time when someone uses Vimeo for instance here, compared to many advanced countries.
“Numerous multinationals in Dubai and small businesses that use online video conferencing apps alike, have vented their frustration that their online video conferencing does not work in the UAE, while it works fine in Singapore, Korea, the UK and Paris,” he said.
In 2016, he said that a Federal National Council member Saeed Al Romaithi called blocking internet video calling an ‘embarrasment’.
Regarding online video entertainment platforms, he said the challenge is that the telecom companies deny there is evidence of lowering the quality and speed of online video like YouTube.
“Try a local YouTube video here and then ask someone in Europe or Japan on 3G or 4G to try the same one. You will see buffering, latency, and longer-load times on the same video here. We know it is not a problem with the global products, but one of how the local ICT infrastructure business is managed.
When contacted, du said that as a telecom service provider, providing a superior user experience continues to be its utmost priority, and as such “we do not discriminate against any form of lawful content being accessed by customers. Furthermore, we see several opportunities to provide a more distinguished user experience by striving to offer higher quality of service and optimising our Next Generation Network (NGN) capabilities.”
Etisalat did not respond to Gulf News queries.
“I have a healthy degree of scepticism that the telecom companies throttle online video solely because of security, privacy and regulatory concerns. If those were the reasons, then why do telecom companies here only throttle brand-name online video platforms but not the dozens of other no-name ones that can be easily found?,” Blatteis said.
Moreover, he said that a lot of times “we think we’re getting faster internet, but then the consumer doesn’t, in practice. And let’s see who ultimately pays for it. If you think of the internet as a utility – power or water – does everyone get the same quality of water across the world? Or the same quality of power? I don’t think so, but they should.”
According to the Speedtest Global Index, the UAE is ranked 55th in fixed broadband download speeds of 25.39Mbps in November, lower than the global average of 40.11Mbps while in mobile broadband, the UAE is ranked ninth with download speeds of 46.83Mbps, above the global average of 20.28Mbps.