South Africa’s Parliament is gearing up to hear the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services’ recommendations on the regulation of Over the Top (OTT) services tomorrow.
While that will no doubt be a heated debate, Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) said that the mobile networks should rather innovate rather than fight against services like WhatsApp.
“History tells us that you cannot regulate progress out of existence.,”the ISPA said in a statement.
“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?”
The organisation likened the call for regulation to the time when there were suggestions of blocking internet services like Skype calling on fixed-lines when Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) started making waves.
“Since the evolution of our regulatory environments, these services have been liberalised and form part of the value proposition for broadband customers.”
Graham Beneke, Co-Chair of ISPA, said that networks have to remember that they too were once the “new kids on the block” and that their growth made a huge difference in the country. The same can happen to OTT services.
“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,” he said.
Instead of fighting the technology and calling on the government to regulate it, mobile networks need to innovate if they want to grow.
“Africa desperately needs OTTs to grow internet participation. Attempting to regulate this technology will hinder the continent’s ICT development, be a technical nightmare to enforce, and simply encourage the growth of a plethora of other lesser-known messaging applications,” said Beneke.
[Image – CC by 2.0/Desiree Catani]