Johannesburg - Fin24 users have largely reacted negatively to possible regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp by government.
On Wednesday, Fin24 reported that Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services has confirmed that it has scheduled hearings into the possible regulation of OTT services in South Africa on January 26.
READ: WhatsApp faces possible regulation in South Africa
OTT services - which range from WhatsApp to Skype and Google Hangouts - allow users to make messages and calls over data networks - often at comparatively lower costs than traditional telephone calls or SMS.
But the services have come under the spotlight by mobile networks MTN and Vodacom who last year called for greater regulation of OTT. Top chief executives at these companies last year referred to how OTT players like WhatsApp, who deliver voice and text services over data networks, don’t invest in local networks’ infrastructure.
READ: Vodacom calls for OTT regulation & MTN targets 'free loading' WhatsApp
Subsequently, Parliament’s hearings on OTT regulation is planned to look into “necessary policy interventions on how to govern OTTs, regulatory interventions on the guidelines to regulate OTTs” and the “impact of OTTs on competition”.
The hearings will also look into whether OTTs need “to be defined as telecom services (voice or data) or telecom infrastructure, and thus whether they should be subject to licensing and regulatory obligations (such as legal intercept and emergency call access) or not.”
Reacting to this development, most Fin24 users have come out in opposition to the possible move.
Fin24 user Johan said that customers have to use mobile networks’ data offerings to access OTT providers in the first place:
“We have to buy data from our service providers in order to use these apps. It just doesn't make sense. I suppose everyone wants their own Nkandla.”
Fin24 user Nelius wrote that regulation of OTT could have wider implications for other services apart from WhatsApp:
“This is ludicrous! I manage an online business which is training students in the property industry. I have over 1 800 students worldwide of which 45% are in the USA, 5% in Canada, 5% UK, 5% Australia and 5% India.
I am using the platforms TeamViewer and Google Hangouts daily. The latter for weekly webinars to engage with my students and also for consulting on a one-on-one basis. My business will be ruined if this happens and I will seriously consider moving to another country.”
Fin24 user Antowan also brought up the argument that customers pay for data to use OTT:
“Consumers pay for data access. What they do with that data should and must be their business. Whether it be text, voice, video or whatever, it is the consumer's choice. It doesn't matter if the carrier is mobile or fixed line. Data is data. Zeroes and ones. Regulation would be overkill and an easy out for all the mobile operators who are the ones behind this. Why? Because if it is regulated the consumer has to fight it out with government instead of having the choice to jump to an operator who doesn't want to tell you what you should and shouldn't do with your data.
If this is regulated it would be just another clamp on the wheels of progress and our economy slowing us down. For what? To protect outdated analogue per minute voice and SMS services? Outrageous! Simply outrageous!”
Fin24 user Mickey also said that Parliament should rather focus on other issues, such as South Africa’s struggling economy:
“I believe that we (South Africa) have much greater issues at hand then OTT regulation. I really wish parliament would focus on those rather than make this an issue. Experts clearly state it is a very involved matter. I believe we would be better served if the current economy, unemployment, basic education, healthcare and violence/crime received more time and attention.”
Meanwhile, Fin24 user Carey said more attention should be paid to mobile networks’ high data and call costs:
“This is crazy! Let's talk about the ludicrous cost of data, calls and SMS costs in this country and then point fingers why don't we? People have resorted to the likes of WhatsApp and Skype in order to stay connected locally and internationally at an affordable rate. If anything the telecoms giants should be applauding people for using more of their overpriced data.”
However, Fin24 user Michael said that there are questions about whether OTT providers should contribute something towards networks around the world:
“It goes without saying that WhatsApp, and other over-the-top (OTT) applications have indeed negatively impacted the revenue of cell-phone companies. A lot of people are no longer making as much calls as they used to, and are no longer using SMSs. Ironically, these OTT applications use the very infrastructure of the very cell phone companies whose well-being they are destroying. I think the best way forward for the cell-phone companies is to charge them some form of rent for the use of their infrastructure.”
But Fin24 user Neames said that OTT is the future of communications:
“The OTT apps are not an exclusive problem that South African operators face. This is the future of communications. The operators need to look to providing a data only service. Long term this will be an easier option than having yet another regulation to help them.”
Finally, Fin24 Pooven wrote: “What a load of croc!”
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on Fin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.