AS IT HAPPENED: Parliament holds meeting on WhatsApp regulation

2016-01-26 09:37

MPs, stakeholders and mobile network representatives are meeting in Parliament to discuss possible regulation of over-the-top services in South Africa.


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Last Updated at 22:19
04 Feb 08:49

Ebele Okobi, head of public policy for Africa at Facebook, also addressed the meeting. Facebook is the world's biggest social network and it owns messaging app WhatsApp.

"WhatsApp operates independently; we do not sell user data. We sell advertising," said Okobi.

"We have a symbiotic relationship with operators," Okobi added.

26 Jan 15:25
What are your views on what was said at the OTT meeting at Parliament today?

26 Jan 15:11
It's starting to quieten down at the OTT meeting. Today, a range of players have provided their views on OTT regulation in South Africa - these include government, MTN, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the Internet Service Providers' Association of South Africa. 

26 Jan 15:03

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda - who is the public policy manager at Google SA, is also addressing his company's views at the OTT meeting today. 

Mgwili-Sibanda says the following: "Content should not be regulated like access".

"Services are not networks; There is no evidence that OTTs are harming telco revenues," Mgwili-Sibanda said.

26 Jan 14:45

A representative from Microsoft is now weighing on the OTT meeting at Parliament. Microsoft owns Skype, which is a prominent OTT player across the globe.

The Microsoft representative has warned government of using "20th century regulations on internet services".

"You are effectively killing anyone who wants to break into the market just to protect the revenues of mobile operators."

Next up to speak at the meeting is an official from Facebook.

26 Jan 14:36

Ispa's Dominic Cull continues:

"Mobile networks don't complain about YouTube which consumes a lot of data."

"Once I pay for the data, a service provider cannot dictate to me how I use it or what services I access."

"The real issue is net neutrality. What is the form of regulation being sought? I haven't heard a clear answer this morning."

26 Jan 14:28

Ispa's Dominic Cull says: "Operators are being constrained on growth."

"We shouldn't be trying to stifle the competition and the benefit from these new services."

"We should allow corporate mergers, spectrum."

26 Jan 14:25

The Wi-Fi forum chair says, "The internet does not differentiate, people differentiate."

He adds: "The internet can drive future jobs, we can drive cross-border jobs."

Next up is Dominic Cull, of the Internet Service Providers' Association (Ispa). 

26 Jan 14:21

Andile Ngcaba, the chair of South Africa's Wi-Fi Forum, says that "we should set a date by which feature phones should not be used in our market."

26 Jan 14:18

The chair of the Wi-Forum continues:

"Telecommunications disrupted telegraph firms which are now found in museums."

"Fixed-line operators lobbied governments that mobile and ISP development should be left to them."

"In my view, SMS must be free as soon as possible."

"The sooner we embrace the internet, the better for us all. The internet cannot be governed.

26 Jan 14:14
More scenes from inside Parliament's meeting on OTT regulation today. 

26 Jan 14:12

The chair of the Wi-Fi Forum says that South Africa's youth should be building applications and exporting them and that OTT is a small part of the internet. 

The chair further says that "innovation is a market disruptor". 

26 Jan 14:07
Parliament's meeting into OTT regulation is resuming. The Wi-Forum chair is readying to address the meeting. 

26 Jan 14:01
Live updates on the hearings at Parliament will resume shortly as attendees have taken a lunch break. 

26 Jan 13:52
To read more about Vodacom and MTN's latest positions on OTT, read the article below: 

26 Jan 13:44

In the lead up to today's meeting, there has been opposition to calls from mobile networks to regulate OTT services such as WhatsApp. 

26 Jan 13:27
Fin24 understands that officials from Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, are also at the OTT meeting in Parliament today. 

26 Jan 13:18

26 Jan 13:12
The meeting has taken a lunch break. Keep posted to Fin24 for further updates. The meeting is scheduled to last until 17:00 today.

26 Jan 13:03

Cell C at the meeting has said that it doesn't distinguish between OTTs and has also punted its free WhatsApp calling offer.

Meanwhile, MTN said that increasing data revenues relates to "demand that customers place on us".

MTN says it invests R5bn to R7bn a year in its network.

26 Jan 12:53

26 Jan 12:43
The DA's Marian Shinn has asked: "Do the cellphone companies know how much extra money they can make through the increased use of data services."

26 Jan 12:40
The DA's Mackenzie has said that it's funny that mobile companies are being called out as monopolies after they once complained about Telkom s monopoly.

26 Jan 12:36
A member of the CSIR has asked: "How can we regulate if we can't generically define OTTs?"

26 Jan 12:24

Cell C has indicated at the meeting that it is opposed to OTT regulation.

Cell C says local mobile networks need to innovate.

The meeting is now open to questions.

26 Jan 12:18

Proceedings have resumed at Parliament. MTN is now stating its case.

MTN says it does not "lock OTTs" on its network.

MTN further says that OTT players don't pay taxes in South Africa.

Furthermore, MTN says OTT players offer end-to-end encryption, which contravenes SA operator licence requirements.

26 Jan 12:11
Pictured: More scenes from inside Parliament's OTT meeting today in Cape Town.

26 Jan 12:05

26 Jan 12:03

26 Jan 11:49
The meeting at Parliament in Cape Town has taken a break but keep posted to our updates.

26 Jan 11:45

Icasa has finished its presentation and now it's the South African Communications Forum who has addressed the meeting.

The forum said that video on demand services like Vidi, ShowMax and Netflix are also OTT services in SA.

The forum has said that OTTs are disruptive innovation but still good news for industry.

26 Jan 11:36

26 Jan 11:32
Pictured below: Icasa highlights the differences between OTT providers and telecom networks (Duncan Alfreds). 

26 Jan 11:28

The CEO of Icasa goes on to say that "OTTs have no licence, no obligations" in SA.

He noted that while OTTs stimulate demand for data, they have "no contribution to network investment" and that "operators have no mechanism to recover costs".

He also said that OTT providers can't be monitored or intercepted

26 Jan 11:23

The CEO of Icasa says that "all of us have made a WhatsApp call and if it cuts off, it's not the OTT player, it's the operator.

"Sometimes when innovation comes up you allow it grow," he says.

26 Jan 11:07

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services says "regulatory issues must answer who pays for what" in terms of OTTs.

But the DTPS also acknowledges that there are competition issues that need to be taken into consideration. 

And next up to speak at the meeting is Icasa.

26 Jan 11:02

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) says that it has looked at a range of other countries' approaches towards OTT and net neutrality.

Chile, for example, has net neutrality policy while US operators accept that they can't fight OTTs, says the DTPS.

Indian authorities, meanwhile, decided not to regulate OTTs in 2014. The DTPS then says it has considered multiple inputs on net neutrality.

26 Jan 10:51

Meanwhile, the DTPS says that a white paper on OTT is scheduled for March this year.

The DTPS says that with regard to OTT, it is looking to an "open internet".

The department official adds that a "key concern is that OTT players make no contribution to the network infrastructure".

26 Jan 10:49

A representative from the policy project management team for the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) is now presenting at the meeting.

The DTPS says it "welcomes discussion" and that "OTT is a key policy issue" as a framing paper on the matter was issued in 2013, a green paper in January 2014, and a discussion paper document November 2014.

26 Jan 10:43

Gillwald has highlighted how other issues, apart from OTT, are having a negative impact on SA's telecoms landscape.

She says that spectrum in SA is a "regulatory bottleneck".

"Six years we've been meeting on this issue and nothing gets done," says Gillwald.

Gillwald also says that President Jacob Zuma's splitting of the Department of Communications in 2014 has "had a devastating effect".

With that, Gillwald finishes her presentation.

26 Jan 10:39

Professor Alison Gillwald, who is the first to present at the OTT meeting today, says that SA is somewhere in the middle "in terms of international data prices".

She goes on to ask: "Are mobile operators negatively affected by OTTs? Is anybody about to exit the market?"

She further notes that in "a competitive market you've got to continue to invest" and that SA has to "move from static regulation to dynamic regulation".

During her presentation, it's also been highlighted that OTT players range from a number of services, as seen by the image below:

26 Jan 10:32

Gillwald goes on to say that Cell C's approach towards OTT players like WhatsApp is that "50% of people on free basics will move that and buy data".

Gillwald adds that "generally, the people who are going into that (Facebook) free basics are late entrants" to the internet".

26 Jan 10:28

Professor Alison Gillwald: "Cell C has entered into a relationship with (Facebook's) Free Basics because they want people to buy their services."

26 Jan 10:24

Professor Alison Gillwald says: "The point is the user is paying for the data- the networks are getting their cut."

Pictured is the agenda and topics for discussion at today's meeting in Cape Town.

26 Jan 10:19

Professor Gillwald says the concern among operators centres on OTT offerings such as WhatsApp being "free".

But she notes that not all OTT services are free to the user.

26 Jan 10:14
More scenes from within Parliament today. (Photo: Duncan Alfreds)

26 Jan 10:12

Professor Alison Gillwald, who is the executive director of Research ICT Africa, is addressing Parliament’s meeting on possible OTT regulation in South Africa.

Gillwald says that “Vodacom and Cell C initially embraced the shift to data”, but she notes that average revenue per user (ARPU) is falling amid declining voice and SMS usage.She says that this is happening all over the world.

26 Jan 10:07

Professor Alison Gillwald says there are changing markets in the telecoms sector where consumers are shifting to data.

She notes that cheaper smartphones are "driving data takeup" but "operators anxious about becoming dumb pipes".

26 Jan 10:05

Professor Alison Gillwald says there are “issues at stake around investment” regarding networks and OTTs.

But she questions as to “how will regulation be enforced.”

“We need complex adaptive regulation. It's a paradox. It could down innovation,” she says.

26 Jan 10:00

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