Vodacom’s recently launched Mobile Internet service which aims to enhance the display of websites on a cellphone through technology that adapts the computer screen format of any website into a smaller, cellphone-friendly format.
The move drew criticism from consumers and organisations that blamed the cellular provider for breaking many websites and not following web standards in its implementation.
The South African chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-ZA) strongly condemned Vodacom’s behaviour, accusing the company of “breaking the Internet for millions of customers. Various applications that include instant messaging, banking, specialised mobile applications such as email, Youtube, Twitter, Fring and at least a dozen others, are no longer working,” ISOC-ZA said.
“The technology that Vodacom is using is not standards-compliant and, considering Vodacom’s position as a dominant ISP, it should behave in a more responsible fashion. Furthermore, some of our members have claimed that Vodacom block many applications that it feels may threaten its business,” ISOC-ZA continued.
Vodacom’s response to ISOC statement
Vodacom, however, says that the launch of its service was well received by its customers.
“The launch of Vodacom’s Mobile Internet service has been well received by customers as a whole, and the vast majority of Vodacom customers would have experienced a significant improvement in the way they access the Internet from their cellphones,” the company said.
“The launch of this service brings South Africa in line with several European countries including France and England, where this form of mobile internet was launched about a year ago to increase access to websites from lower-end WAP-enabled cellphones.”
“With the demographic prevalence of these lower-end devices in South Africa, bringing the web to so many users who had difficulty in browsing the web before was a high priority for Vodacom.”
Vodacom strongly denied that it did not follow web standards when developing and deploying the system.
“Vodacom would like to clearly state that the solution deployed is in accordance to international standards as far as these have been developed by bodies such as the W3C,” Vodacom said.
“As you’ll know, on 19 July 2007 in London at the ‘best working practices’ W3C meeting, Vodafone and others started a working group on tackling the standards issues created by content adaptation. Vodafone is an active participant in this workgroup and has co-authored many of the relevant documents.”
“All work done in South Africa, by Vodacom, is part of the global Vodafone initiative for content adaptation and as such Vodacom is in direct consultation with Vodafone on the deployment of the service.”
“Furthermore, our software supplier is a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and an active participant in the Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group. Our supplier was the first industry-related signatory to the manifesto in question, and in fact helped draft some of the guidelines. The recent meetings of the W3C CA working group resulted in new additions to the specification and these are already incorporated in the software roadmap.”
Vodacom reiterated that the technology used was as much in line with current global industry standards and best practices as possible and that they are looking forward to a retraction from ISOC in respect of the incorrect statements made in this regard.
Website owners have a choice
The company said that prior to the launch of Mobile Internet, Vodacom put measures into place for website owners who wish to have their website excluded from Vodacom’s Mobile Internet service.
“These website owners can request Vodacom to “whitelist” their website. Once a website has been whitelisted by Vodacom the website will immediately be removed from the content adaptation service,” the cellular provider said.
“Customers accessing a whitelisted website will have the same user experience as they were used to. To be whitelisted, website owners simply need to dial 155, free from a Vodacom cellphone, or 082 155 from any other cellphone. They can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“In the first few days, a number of requests were received and each time implemented within hours of receiving the request. For the last four days, no new requests have been received, indicating the architecture is bedding down.”
Vodacom said that it will be making an announcement soon with regards to usability enhancements to its Mobile Internet service, where after they will engage with customers and industry, including the Internet Society of South Africa, in this regard.
The Internet Society of South Africa could not be reached for comment by the time of publication – telephone calls were not returned and the email address provided on their website bounced.