Cape Town – The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) says it plans to launch an inquiry in the next financial year to look at the impact of over-the-top (OTT) services, like WhatsApp and Skype, on the data services market.
Willington Ngwepe, the Chief Operations Officer of ICASA, said this when the Parliamentary Committee tasked with providing oversight over Postal Services and Telecommunications held hearings on the regulation of OTT services on Tuesday.
Ngwepe’s announcement came after an ICT expert, Dr Alison Gillwald, cautioned against the regulation of OTT services, and rather urged Parliament to allow innovation to thrive or face the risk of stifling the sector.
Ngwepe said the regulator would let the market evolve and continue to monitor the impact of OTTs and if necessary at a later stage, an intervention could be made.
“Our plan is that the next financial year, we will be conducting an inquiry into priority markets… We intend to look into data services next and as part of that, we will consider the possible impact of OTTs on the market.
“…OTT services result in increased use of bandwidth, increased use of data networks and data,” he said.
ICASA CEO Pakamile Pongwana said when innovation thrives, it is critical to allow it to grow instead of intervening without doing a full assessment of its impact.
“Allow innovation to happen… and deal with the bottlenecks. The bottleneck we are experiencing today is … our holding back spectrum. It is a bottleneck because networks could have grown further, OTTs could have grown further, people could have benefitted better.
“The fundamental principle is that regulation tends to be about control. We want to control something, that is why we have regulation, or we want to just remove the bottleneck.
“The question that will come all the time is ‘do you enable or do you regulate?’ Enabling sometimes is about facilitating those that can facilitate the faster growth of our economy and our country,” he said.
Tuesday’s parliamentary discussions come as the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is busy finalising the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper.
Alf Wiltz, the department’s Chief Director of Telecommunications and ICT Policy, said the panel making recommendations has considered inputs from all industry stakeholders on the matter.
“Those recommendations proposed that ICASA would do an assessment of whether regulation is required, looking at public interest and the principles of an open internet.
“In addition, ICASA would consider frameworks in other countries similar to the discussions we are having today … Transparency of network management, if that occurs, should enable consumers to make informed decisions on services…” he said.