South Africa’s third largest mobile network, Cell C, says that possible local regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp and Skype could harm the industry and consumers.
OTT services — which range from WhatsApp to Skype and Google Hangouts — allow users, among other things, to make messages and calls over data networks — typically at lower costs than traditional telephone calls or SMS.
But local growth of these services prompted Vodacom and MTN last year to call for regulation of OTT services.
And now that call has been taken up by parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications & postal services, which said in a statement on Thursday that “mobile operators are requesting that parliament consider passing a policy or regulations of data services on mobile networks such that they generate revenue for carrying the data services on their bandwidth infrastructure”.
The committee has scheduled hearings on 26 January to discuss possible regulation of OTT services in South Africa.
However, in light of the upcoming hearings, Cell C is taking a different stance to its rivals on the matter.
“We strongly believe that this (regulating OTT players) could be to the detriment of the industry and consumer at large,” said Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos.
“Contrary to our competitors, Cell C has been embracing the services offered by OTTs,” Dos Santos said.
Cell C provides free access to Facebook and basic internet services through the social network’s Free Basics programme. The company also offers unlimited WhatsApp at R5/month, Dos Santos said.
The Cell C CEO further said his company plans to attend the OTT hearings on 26 January.
“It is key for mobile operators and OTTs to find innovative ways to work together and we look forward to building on our existing partnerships with the OTTs,” he added.
Cell C is South Africa’s third largest operator with 22m subscribers in South Africa.
Last month, it announced that its board had accepted an offer from JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms to acquire 35% of the mobile network for R4bn.
The boards of Cell C and its holding company, 3C Telecommunications, have also accepted an offer from Cell C management and staff to hold about 30% of the mobile network’s shares for R2,5bn. — Fin24