The real reason behind Facebook and WhatsApp regulation talks: DA

The failure in policy to roll out spectrum ideal for high speed data networks is a contributing factor to an impending network crunch in South Africa, says the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Despite policy going back to 2008, the key 800MHz spectrum has not been allocated to mobile operators, leading to an impending crunch as data use spikes and talk emerges of regulating over-the-top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp.

“It is one of the major bottlenecks and it will go a long way to alleviating people’s access to it – obviously the higher demand spectrum and also the analogue broadcasting spectrum that should become available when we finally switch to over to digital broadcasting,” Marian Shinn, DA shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services, told Fin24.

Shinn was participating at the portfolio committee’s discussion into the regulation of OTT services on Tuesday. But there was debate at the meeting about how any kind of regulation could be drafted and implemented.

Shinn said that by allocating key spectrum, operators could unleash more data and potentially lower the cost to communicate.

“The more space there is, the more they will use and therefore the more money will be generated.”

She said that operators were intent on protecting revenues as voice and messaging come under pressure, while competitive pressures force them to invest in networks.

“I don’t know that they’re greedy: They do invest an awful lot in infrastructure but they do get their payback in that the more data and over the top services that people use, they charge the users for accessing that data.

“I think what they are trying to do is make sure that they maintain bigger profits than before.”

The government has, through the South African Post Office (Sapo), started rolling out set-top boxes to facilitate digital migration, but Shinn said that policy direction in the department was vague.

“The unavailability of spectrum has been an ongoing fight for six or seven years. It’s ministerial inertia on how to allocate spectrum – that is the problem,” she said.

Policy deadline

Minister Siyabonga Cwele promised in 2015 that the department’s ICT policy review process would be completed and a white paper produced by March 2016.

“I think it will materialise but it will only be a way forward; the start of something. There’s huge bureaucratic inertia in the department. There’s such a regulatory backlog they never even get to OTT – not in my lifetime,” Shinn fumed.

She said that clear policy on OTT would not emerge from the department, given the evidence of other delays.

“It’s going to all disappear into a great big swamp because the department doesn’t have the capacity to actually generate regulation that should have been out last year, let alone any new stuff that’s coming out.”


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The real reason behind Facebook and WhatsApp regulation talks: DA