WhatsApp and Skype might be subject to new regulatory obligations in Italy as a consequence of the consultation just launched by the Italian communication authority (AgCom).

I had already discussed in this blog post about the impact of instant messaging apps on the telecom industry and the issue pertaining their qualification as either a mere software or an electronic communication service with the consequential regulatory obligations. Instant messaging apps are already subject to consumer protection obligations, but the question is whether also communications related obligations shall be imposed on them.

The Italian communication authority seems now to have taken the move of better investigating the topic as part of a consultation on the development of digital platforms and electronic communications services.
The scope of the consultation is quite broad as it covers all the digital platforms, but I believe that what is more interesting relates to the section concerning “social apps” where it is made reference to “consumer communication services” that allow the real time exchange of voice, text, photo and video contents such as WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, Viber and Skype.

The Authority questioned the public, among others, on whether

1. The manufacturers/providers of social apps shall remunerate the holders of the infrastructures and the holders of the numbering for the usage of their resources, and if so how;
2. Ad hoc regulations shall be put in place to govern agreements between manufacturers/suppliers of social apps and network operators in order to prevent behaviors aimed at excluding third parties (e.g. access, interconnection and pricing policies);
3. Transparency obligations shall be put in place on manufacturers/suppliers of social apps towards final users and whether “traditional” transparency obligations imposed on network operators might be adapted to the context of manufacturers/suppliers of social apps or ad hoc regulations shall be introduced; and
4. Obligations in addition to transparency obligations shall be imposed on manufacturers/suppliers of social apps to protect users.

Also, the Authority sought the view of the public on whether services offered by social apps can be deemed interchangeable with services offered by traditional services which seems to be the point on which traditional telecom operators are insisting to claim their rights.

The deadline of the consultation that is open to any entity in the public is the 10th of January 2016 and such initiative seems quite relevant for the whole industry as the position taken by the Italian communications authority might be used as benchmark by other authorities.