Parliament’s discussions about regulating over-the-top (OTT) services kicked off on Tuesday with an expert saying that networks fear becoming pure infrastructure players.
OTT services such as WhatsApp and Skype offer voice and text message offerings over data networks — often at a lower cost than traditional telecommunications services.
But the growth of these services has caught the attention of mobile networks with the CEOs of both Vodacom and MTN last year calling for the regulation of OTTs.
Services such as WhatsApp currently don’t contribute financially to local networks, an issue that has previously been highlighted by Vodacom and MTN.
Subsequently, parliament’s portfolio committee on telecoms & postal services set up a meeting on OTT regulation on Tuesday. Committee chair Mmamoloko Kubayi said she initiated the meeting after she realised that OTT is becoming an issue in the industry.
Professor Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT Africa, was the first to present at the meeting.
She said that cheaper smartphones are “driving data take-up” but that “operators are anxious about becoming dumb pipes”.
“Are mobile operators negatively affected by OTTs? Is anybody about to exit the market?” said Gillwald at the meeting.
She also said at the meeting that South Africa is facing other important telecoms issues, apart from OTT.
For example, she highlighted that spectrum in the country has become a “regulatory bottleneck”.
“Six years we’ve been meeting on this issue and nothing gets done,” said Gillwald.
Gillwald also said that President Jacob Zuma’s splitting of the department of communications in 2014 has “had a devastating effect” on the sector.
Meanwhile, Kubayi said the gathering in parliament on Tuesday is a meeting and not a hearing into possible OTT regulation in SA.
“Get it clear colleagues, we are not here to stifle competition,” said Kubayi.
But the Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn asked why the meeting is taking place in the first place. “Who raised this topic? It was a complete surprise,” she said. “Why are we not discussing the issue of the cost of data?”
Other stakeholders speaking at the meeting on Tuesday include department of telecoms & postal services and communications regulator Icasa. — Fin24