Johannesburg - Local mobile networks must innovate amid fast-growing over-the-top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp, says the Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa).
The chair of Ispa Graham Beneke, in a statement on Monday, has urged local mobile networks to innovate rather than seek regulation.
Beneke’s statement comes a day before Parliament plans to discuss possible OTT regulation in South Africa. The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services is set to meet on Tuesday January 26 at the Old Assembly Chamber within the precincts of Parliament in Cape Town.
READ: WhatsApp faces possible regulation in South Africa
The meeting - which is open to the public - is expected to take place between 09:00 and 17:00 on Tuesday and Fin24 understands that stakeholders from the telecoms industry and civil society to independent analysts are expected to attend.
Parliament’s scheduling of the meeting comes after chief executives of Vodacom and MTN last year called for OTT regulation. Cell C, though, is opposing OTT regulation.
READ: Vodacom calls for OTT regulation & MTN targets 'free loading' WhatsApp
“History tells us that you cannot regulate progress out of existence,” said Beneke.
“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?” he added.
Beneke further explained that mobile networks themselves benefitted from not being heavily regulated when they first launched in South Africa over 20 years ago.
“The mobile networks forget that they once were the new kids on the block,” said Beneke.
“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 50 cents each time they send a single SMS,” Beneke said.
Beneke went on to say that Ispa is “encouraged that some network operators are on record as saying that they are committed to establishing an amicable relationship with OTTs”. Both Vodacom and MTN this month have said they want a level playing field with OTT providers.
READ: Vodacom, MTN seek level playing field with OTTs
However, public opposition to regulating OTT providers is also growing. A petition launched by local online women’s magazine All4Women to block OTT regulation in South Africa had over 15 000 signatures on Monday.
READ: Petition launched to reject WhatsApp regulation