MTN, Vodacom call for WhatsApp & Skype to be regulated

MTN and Vodacom say OTT players make no contribution to investment in infrastructure.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

CAPE TOWN - Mobile operators Vodacom and MTN have strongly argued for so-called Over-The-Top (OTT) services, such as WhatsApp and Skype, to be regulated.

But competitor Cell C has taken a different line at today's hearings hosted by Parliament's Telecommunications and Postal Services Committee.

MTN and Vodacom first made the call for OTT players to be subjected to regulation late last year, arguing that they make no contribution to investment in infrastructure and are not subject to the same regulations and controls that apply to South African operators.

WhatsApp and Skype have dented mobile operators' income from text messages and voice calls.

LISTEN: EWN's Gaye Davis on WhatsApp could be regulated in SA depending on Parliament planned hearing.

Vodacom's Dr Andrew Barendse says the same service should be treated the same.

"Vodacom does support the equal regulatory treatment of services that have the same functionality and compete with each other".

MTN's Graham de Vries says his company agrees.

He says OTT services don't pay tax in South Africa.

De Vries also raised a security concern, saying under South African law, services had to be imperceptible.

"There are OTT players that offer end to end encrypted services that do not comply with that particular requirement and are therefore not imperceptible."

Cell C's Graham Mackinnon says his company's opposed to additional regulation.

"You simply stifle innovation, you stifle investment - we believe OTTs need to be embraced."

Earlier expert Alison Gillwald also warned against over-hasty regulation, saying the lack of bandwidth was a bigger problem for the sector.

ICASA ADOPTS WAIT AND SEE APPROACH

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) says it's adopted a wait-and-see approach on the possible regulation of new communication tools such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

Icasa CEO Pakamile Pongwana says mobile operators have grown because and not in spite of a regulatory light touch.

"If you look at the growth of the existing mobile operators, it has grown to be what it is because of regulatory (and) policy forbearance. Sometimes, when innovation comes up, you allow it to grow."

Telecommunications policy expert Dr Alison Gillwald says such services are opening up access to the internet for the poor and providing services that would not otherwise be available to them.

"Short-termism, instrumental, old fashioned competition regulation of these very new, dynamic, innovative services that are opening up the internet to the poor need to be guarded against"