Vietnam Considers Ban on Mobile Chat Apps

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Aug. 22 – Late last week, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked the Communications Ministry to look into possible regulations restricting free call and messaging apps (chat apps) in an attempt to level the playing field for Vietnamese telecoms companies.  Apps that may be affected include internationally popular Viber, Line and WhatsApp.

The Prime Minister’s actions are the result of calls from Vietnamese telecoms companies to place an outright ban on all chat apps.  The telecoms companies claim that they are suffering massive losses due to the usage of these apps and the free international call services they offer, and that they are being forced to cover these losses by implementing large price increases – something most domestic Vietnamese consumers are likely to not be able to afford.

It is predicted that mobile operators will lose US$32 billion in traditional SMS revenue to chat apps in 2013, which is expected to increase to US$86 billion by 2020.

Currently, however, Vietnam’s Communication Ministry has refused to implement an outright ban on these chat apps, and many foreigners feel optimistic about the failure of such a restrictive measure.  Jong Buhm Park, CEO of NHN Vietnam – developer of Line, a Japan-based chat app – stated that he was confident that a ban would not happen.

The Vietnamese government currently has a number of other options to alleviate the effects of chat apps on domestic telecoms operators besides a total ban.  For example, it can push the chat app companies and network providers to work together to formulate a solution, among other things.

Additionally, the government may not pursue a ban at all due to the worldwide criticism it would likely face, since many would view the action as a controversial move to censor the internet in Vietnam.

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