WhatsApp and other over-the -top (OTT) internet services could be regulated in South Africa following a regulatory call by Vodacom over such services.
Vodacom, South Africa's biggest mobile network wants a regulatory approach to data-driven over the OTT services which include Skype, Google Hangouts among others that allow users to make calls and message over data networks which often is cheaper compared to the traditional SMS and telephone.
The outcome of the matter is scheduled to be heard on January 26, at the parliamentary hearing which will then determine if the OTTs will be required to get licenses to operate like telecom companies currently do.
MTN and Vodacom argue that OTTs are free-riding on their infrastructure and efforts, and as a result, they should be regulated.
Mteto Nyati, CEO, MTN South Africa told Fin24 that OTTs are “getting huge benefit out of an industry without making any investment.”
WhatsApp Popularity in South Africa
According to Global Web Index released in 2014, WhatsApp dominated as top used chat app in South Africa. The report indicated that messaging apps have increased by 30% since 2012 which has put pressure on text message services offered by telecommunication companies.
By 2015, WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned service, had more than 10 million users in South Africa according to research from World Wide Worx and Fuseware.
WhatsApp and other OTTs provide a platform for users to communicate through text, calls or video conferencing for free provided the user has data connection, supplied by the mobile carriers.
It is not just South Africans that are waiting for the outcome in less than two weeks’ time. Other Africans and telecommunication companies in Africa and across the world are waiting to hear the results of the debate that could shape the regulation measures on OTTs in other countries as well.
Dominic Cull, a communications regulatory expert at Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, told Fin24 that the move by the companies is absurd.
According to Cull “just about everything provided over the network could be regarded as an OTT,” adding that trying to divide them is difficult and “once you can't divide them up, it obviously becomes ludicrous to try and regulate them.