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Telecoms operators encouraged to innovate in the face of WhatsApp rather than regulate it


It has been reported that South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has released a statement encouraging telecoms operators to innovate in the face of challenges from Over The Top (OTT) Services like WhatsApp and Skype, rather than seeking to regulate them.

This statement comes just a day before the South African Parliament is set to begin talks around the possibility of regulating OTT services which have been accused by operators like MTN and Vodacom of freeboarding on their infrastructure.

Part of ISPA’s statement which is quoted in an article on Techcentral reads,


“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?”

It’s the same argument that has been extended by several analysts and industry watchers that have questioned the wisdom behind this push for regulation, citing examples of disruptive innovation like mobile money that telecoms operators also benefitted from at the expense of other long-standing business lines.

This is the latest development in an ongoing debate around the pros and cons of OTT service regulation, something which has become an area of intense industry in telecoms and broadband services because of the disruptive nature of the OTT Services.

Over the past couple of years, services like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and other VoIP platforms have been singled out in various markets as some of the lead causes of reduced revenues. Faced by alternatives for cheaper and more elaborate media for communication like WhatsApp, consumers are using traditional voice services less and less.

In Morocco, OTT Services have already come under regulatory address with access to their call services restricted across the main telecoms networks. Any approval from the South African legislature will likely have an accumulative effect on the potential enactment of similar regulations in other African markets.


In Zimbabwe, POTRAZ, the telecoms regulator, and the Ministry of ICT (which are the two entities steering any discussion around telecoms regulation) haven’t spoken in favour of regulation, despite POTRAZ itself and the operators highlighting the effect that OTT services have on revenues.

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