South African mobile operators MTN, Cell C and Vodacom are split on whether to regulate over-the-top (OTT) services.
Cell C wants no regulation, Vodacom would like to see some policing of OTT services that compete directly with it, and MTN accepts that OTT providers are a reality but has concerns over some aspects around them.
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting into OTT services in Cape Town on Tuesday, the operators said they accepted that OTT providers were competing with them but did not want to see them blocked.
Of all three operators, Vodacom was the most adamant about the need for some kind of regulation.
Though he was at pains to say the operator welcomed the innovation that OTT services brought, Andrew Barendse, Vodacom’s managing executive of regulatory affairs, said the operator wanted the regulation of OTT services that competed directly with its own products and services.
The growing popularity of OTT services such as Skype and WhatsApp are eating into the voice and text revenues of the operators as they piggyback on their data networks.
There is a sense of unease among some operators over this, who believe that OTT providers make money at their expense. Barendse pointed out that apart from OTT companies not rolling out their own infrastructure, they were also not subjected to legal requirements such as the ability of security agencies to monitor their networks, consumer protection legislation and taxation.
Graham de Vries, MTN South Africa executive for corporate services, had the same concerns as Barendse. But he stopped short of calling for them to be regulated. He instead called on policymakers and regulators to be aware of the issues when it came to considering what action (if any) they would take.
For his part, Cell C’s chief legal officer, Graham Mackinnon, said he saw any call for the regulation of OTT services as a step backward. Referring directly to Vodacom and MTN, he said it was “a bit rich” that they were asking for protection considering how they used their market power to attempt to squeeze Cell C out of the market.
Mackinnon said operators had no choice but to adjust to a world where OTT providers were going to be central players in the telecom sector. They should rather adopt economic models that take that into account rather than fighting it. — © 2016 NewsCentral Media