#SaveWhatsApp Petition Launches As African Mobile Networks Seek Regulation

By Dana Sanchez Published: January 15, 2016, 10:13 am
#SaveWhatsApp petition launchesImage: mybroadband.co.za

An online petition is asking for the South African government to reject calls by mobile networks to regulate over-the-top services such as Skype, Google hangouts and WhatsApp that are competing with them, Fin24 reported.

Over-the-top services allow users to send messages and make calls over data networks, typically at lower costs than traditional telephone calls or SMS, BusinessTech reported.

Smartphone messaging app WhatsApp now generates more than 10 percent of South Africa’s mobile network traffic – almost a 50 percent increase in traffic share from the same period a year ago, MyBroadband reported in December.

WhatsApp is popular in Africa because it lets people exchange texts without paying big fees to carriers. People are using it for more than just texting, according to an earlier AFKInsider report.

“Over the past two years, communications applications continued to grow in African bandwidth share as subscribers moved from traditional voice calls and SMS messaging to a mix of VoIP and over-the-top messaging applications,” MyBroadband reported.

Forbes in 2012 described WhatsApp as the biggest social network you never heard of. Then Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for US$22 billion and now everyone knows its name.

Online South African women’s magazine All4Women.co.za this week launched a petition to “#SaveWhatsApp and other communication apps you can’t live without,” Fin24 reported.

The petition was launched after readers responsed to a story about possible WhatsApp regulation in South Africa, according to the site’s editor, Sasha Wyatt-Minter.

Apps like WhatsApp allow poorer South Africans and business owners to access cheap communication, Wyatt-Minter told Fin24.

“We feel that these apps of communication platforms contribute to our economic growth,” she said.

A South African parliamentary committee on telecommunications and postal services said this week it plans to hold hearings Jan. 26 to discuss possible regulation of over-the-top services as requested by mobile networks.

Vodacom and MTN — South Africa’s largest mobile networks — asked in 2015 for WhatsApp to be regulated in South Africa, saying over-the-top services don’t contribute financially to the use of local mobile networks.

But not all networks want the regulation. Cell C — No. 3 in South Africa — opposes regulation. Cell C provides free access to Facebook and basic Internet through Internet.org through an arrangement with Facebook and six other companies to offer affordable Internet in developing countries. Cell C also offers unlimited WhatsApp for 5 rand ($0.30 US) per month.

“We strongly believe that (regulating over-the-top players) could be to the detriment of the industry and consumer at large,” Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos, told Fin24.

“Contrary to our competitors, Cell C has been embracing the services offered by OTTs,” Dos Santos told Fin24. “It is key for mobile operators and OTTs to find innovative ways to work together and we look forward to building on our existing partnerships with the OTTs.”

All4Women.co.za editor Wyatt-Minter said the call for regulation is “really an issue of corporate greed.”

“The South African government can’t start listening to people who want to do things for the wrong sorts of reasons because we need to listen to the voice of South Africa, the voice of the people,” she said.

More than 6,276 people have signed the petition. All4Women has a goal of getting 50,000 signatures by next week.

“Businesses are built on communication and South Africa as a country really needs as much access to communication as possible,” Wyatt-Minter said.

Here are some All4Women reader comments about the idea of OTT regulation:

Ryan: “If South Africa is to grow as a nation we need to understand the idea of healthy competition. Whatsapp is simply showing that data rates can be sold at much cheaper rates without exploiting the user. #monopoliesmustfall”

Ronell: “Government must just leave WhatsApp and the other OTTs alone. They cannot assist us with getting networks to lower their prices for calls and data as they should.”

Lana: “They need to leave Whatsapp and the other OTTs alone”

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