Cape Town - Members of Parliament, mobile networks, analysts and industry stakeholders met on Tuesday to discuss possible regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp.
OTT services provide cheaper voice and text messaging services over data networks. And players such as MTN, Vodacom, Google, Facebook and Microsoft debated the topic of regulating these services at the Parliament meeting.
The Chair of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services, Mmamoloko Kubayi, said the gathering was a meeting and not a hearing into possible OTT regulation in SA.
At this stage, it is unclear if government could look to embark on any regulatory path for these services in South Africa.
However, a document presented by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) at the meeting indicated how there are ten ways in which OTTs are not under as much regulatory pressure as their mobile network counterparts.
For mobile networks in South Africa, licensing is required while OTT providers don’t operate with any licensing, according to Icasa.
Quality of service (QoS)
Licensed providers, such as mobile networks, need to be subject to QoS standards whereas OTT providers don’t have these requirements.
Interconnection involves networks being required to connect calls and texts to other networks in South Africa. However, OTT providers don’t have to adhere to these same standards.
Licensed providers, such as MTN and Vodacom, are subject to rolling out their services universally across South Africa. But OTTs don't have to adhere to this requirement.
Licensed providers, like mobile operators, are subject to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in South Africa while OTT providers - some of which are based internationally - are not subject to the CPA in SA, says Icasa.
Icasa further says that licensed providers have to adhere to “strict data protection and privacy requirements for users” while OTT providers practice this on a “limited and generally voluntary basis”.
Licensed providers - like MTN and Vodacom - are subject to a tax regime in South Africa while OTT providers are not subject to this regime, says Icasa.
Investment in infrastructure
As part of their licensing requirements, mobile networks are expected to invest in their network infrastructure. Icasa says that licensed providers have spent over R10bn over the last five years on their networks. OTT players have not invested in local infrastructure, says Icasa.
Licensed provider in South Africa can only serve their customers within their regulated jurisdiction. OTT services, though, can serve any user anywhere in the world.
Finally, Icasa says that licensed providers in South Africa have to adhere to national content regulation such as local quotas. OTTs, on the other hand, don’t have to adhere to content regulation or adhere to carriage requirements of public channels.
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