Make SMS free in SA, says Wi-Fi body

Johannesburg - SMS must be made free in South Africa amid the rise of over-the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, says the Wi-Fi Forum.

Debate is raging in South Africa about whether OTT technologies - which provide cheap or free calling and text messaging over data networks - should be regulated.

Subsequently, industry stakeholders, analysts and government bodies met in Parliament on Tuesday to discuss the possible regulation of OTTs.

At the meeting, MTN and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) claimed that OTTs are not obligated to pay tax in South Africa and that the privacy of users of these services is not guaranteed.

READ: MTN: OTT players don't pay tax in SA and 10 'advantages' that OTTs have over networks

But global tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft countered these arguments as they moved to oppose possible regulation of OTT services in South Africa.

READ: Tech giants reject OTT regulation for SA

Among those criticising OTT regulation at Tuesday’s meeting was also the Wi-Fi Forum of South Africa (WFFSA) Chair Andile Ngcaba who further called on networks to free up their messaging services.

“In my view SMS must be free as soon as possible,” said Ngcaba at the briefing on Tuesday.

Ngcaba, in a statement on Wednesday, reiterated that mobile networks must innovate or suffer the consequences.

"Telegraph equipment can now be found in museums because those firms didn't innovate,” Ngcaba said.

“Nobody wants our mobile networks to end up in museums because they didn't recognise a market-disrupting technology as an opportunity.

“The internet cannot be governed and must be embraced," he said.

What are your thoughts? Should networks make SMS completely free in SA? Tell us by clicking here.

South Africa’s struggling economy is also a key reason for the country to steer clear of OTT regulation, explained Ngcaba.

"Moves to regulate budget-friendly communication services like WhatsApp and Skype come at a time when consumers are set to be hit by further interest rate and cost of living increases," said Ngcaba.

The WFFSA Chair also said that internet messaging applications, like WhatsApp, are motivating Africa’s youth to create their own mobile services.

"Every young person wants to develop the next WhatsApp and we should be encouraging the building and exporting of apps, not trying to wish them away in a spirit of complacency," he added.

It’s unclear at this stage as to whether Tuesday’s Parliament meeting on OTT could lead to government seeking OTT regulation in South Africa.

At the beginning of the meeting on Tuesday the Chair of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services, Mmamoloko Kubayi, said “we are not here to stifle competition".

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