According to recent reports, Vodacom and MTN are planning to attend the scheduled Parliamentary hearings on the possible regulation of Over-The-Top (OTT) services in South Africa.
OTT services, such as Skype and WhatsApp, enable users to send messages and make voice calls using data networks, generally at a lower cost than traditional voice or SMS charges.
The hearings are due to be held on January 26, during which Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services will discuss possible regulation of OTT services.
According to the portfolio committee, the hearings are set to discuss “necessary policy interventions on how to govern OTTs, regulatory interventions on the guidelines to regulate OTTs” and the “impact of OTTs on competition”, as well as whether “there a need for the OTTs to be defined as telecom services (voice or data) or telecom infrastructure, and thus whether they should be subject to licensing and regulatory obligations (such as legal intercept and emergency call access) or not?”
In the lead up to the hearings, Cell C CEO, Jose dos Santos, accused Vodacom and MTN of “declaring war on consumers”.
Dos Santos said “the infamous duopoly wants to limit how we use Internet services like WhatsApp – and it has nothing to do with fairness, competition, or the future of South Africa”.
“These are companies that have shown no interest in the welfare of the customers who keep them in business,” said dos Santos.
“MTN, Vodacom, and their collaborators… simply want to protect what they have and they are happy to sell the consumer out to get that.”
Vodacom and MTN have not responded to Cell C’s accusations.
Maya Makanjee, Vodacom’s chief officer of corporate affairs, has said her company won’t be delivering a presentation.
“Vodacom is supportive of a review of the regulation similar to the view expressed by the European Commission, articulated in the Digital Single Market strategy, that rules must be simpler, future proof and must also ensure a level playing field between traditional telecoms companies and new players where they compete in the same market.”
MTN does plan to make a presentation to the portfolio committee on its viewpoint regarding OTT operators.
“MTN believes that telecommunication operators and over-the-top (OTT) operators can co-exist in an agreed and mutually beneficial relationship,” the company said. “MTN is committed to establishing an amicable relationship with OTTs.”