The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) made a strong recommendation recently to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) that they do not need to be looking at regulatory intervention regarding the issue of Net Neutrality in South Africa.
The recommendation came as part of the ISPA’s submission to ICASA’s high-level enquiry into the state of competition in the ICT sector.
Net Neutrality is a hot topic in the US at the moment, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently proposed new regulations which could pave the way for the establishment of an ‘internet fast lane’. This would allow content providers (such as Netflix) to pay Internet Service Providers for preferential treatment so that their websites are provided to end users at a higher speed than other internet traffic.
Net Neutrality argues that this would be unfair and uncompetitive because it would harm smaller companies, who cannot afford to pay ISPs for this preferential treatment and would therefore be seen as slower and less user friendly to the end client.
Proponents of Net Neutrality therefore say that broadband internet services should be reclassified by the FCC as a telecommunications service, similar to a public utility, which would allow for stricter regulation and would not allow preferential treatment.
Internet Service Providers in the US do not like the idea of Net Neutrality because under the ‘Internet Fast Lane’ model they are able to charge both the end users who are paying for an internet connection, and the content providers and websites who want their contend delivered faster.
According to ISPA this is “not a particularly helpful debate for us in South Africa as our market is at a different stage of development. We face a different set of issues in order to ensure fair competition here.” They believe that shaping bandwidth should be recognised as a normal, day-to-day part of network operations.
They also wanted to emphasise that consumers needed to be made aware of this fact, and understand the nature of the service they were purchasing.
Dominic Cull, the ISPA’s regulatory advisor said, “At this stage, rules should be primarily directed at prohibiting network operators from unfairly prioritising their own network traffic over the traffic from other operators.”
“But if an ISP’s customer wants to buy a service that is prioritised in some way, then he or she should be able to do so. The same is true for content providers.”
“The principle we need to follow should be that when a consumer buys a premium service, it should not affect the service offered to other consumers.”