The Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa) says South Africa’s mobile operators need to develop new ways of partnering and competing with “over-the-top” (OTT) services such as Skype and WhatsApp instead of trying to have them regulated.
In a statement on Monday, a day ahead of planned hearings by parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications & postal services into the possible regulation of OTT services, Ispa, which represents most of the country’s ISPs, says that progress can’t be regulated away.
“Imagine how the GDP-boosting growth of cellular phones in South Africa would have been constrained if Telkom had decided in 1994 to approach parliament with the unworkable idea that landlines and cellphones should be bundled together in order to protect its monopoly?” the association says.
“Indeed, there had previously been suggestions of blocking services like Skype on fixed-line networks, at a time when voice-over-Internet protocol services were reserved for a limited number of operators,” it says. “Since the evolution of our regulatory environment, these services have been liberalised and form part of the value proposition for broadband customers.”
Ispa chairman Graham Beneke says the mobile operators have forgotten that they once were “the new kids on the block”.
“Their growth was encouraged and look what a wonderful difference they made to South Africa. OTT services have the potential to further democratise communication and drive uptake of broadband because they offer an affordable alternative to the millions of South Africans who cannot afford to make a call or to pay 50c each time they send a single SMS,” Beneke says in the statement.
He says mobile networks must innovate when it comes to OTT services. “Operators are already thinking out the box when it comes to OTT. For example, positive airtime balances are required to access OTT services like WhatsApp. Fair-usage protocols have also been applied for some time.”
Beneke adds: “Africa desperately needs OTTs to grow Internet participation. Attempting to regulate this technology will hinder the continent’s ICT development, be a technical nightmare to enforce, and simply encourage the growth of a plethora of other lesser-known messaging applications.” — © 2016 NewsCentral Media