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Phone networks seek to regulate IM services

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Consumers are up in arms that mobile networks like MTN and Vodacom have asked national government to regulate networking services including WhatsApp and Skype.

According to World Wide Worx managing director, Arthur Goldstuck, instant messaging applications like WhatsApp, BBM and WeChat have been extremely successful in South Africa due to their cost effectiveness.

“An SMS may cost between 50 and 80 cents, whereas on WhatsApp you are using a very small amount of data which costs you a fraction of a cent per message,” Goldstuck explains.

WhatsApp in particular provides a large variety of additional services that include the ability to send pictures, as well as make voice calls. Furthermore if one has access to a Wi-Fi network that is free of charge, then subsequently applications using the internet will be free to the consumer.

“They (mobile networks) want to regulate these services because it has caught them flat footed and they don’t have an answer to it,” says Goldstuck.

“Instead of trying to move forward with the times, embracing these tools and finding more ways for people to use data and therefore making more money out of data, they would rather hold back the future,” Goldstuck goes further.

“In other words they want the government, parliament and the regulator to approve new regulations that will force players such as WhatsApp to pay for telecommunications licenses, limit their services, or pay the networks even a cut of their revenues.”

In South Africa one gigabyte of data on mobile networks—the only means of accessing the internet for most—is R149 (pre-paid). This means that for millions of South Africans, and those visiting the country who purchase a pre paid phone, data is a luxury.

“The argument that the networks make is that the more money they make the more they can invest in infrastructure. However, the flip side is that they will prevent the consumer from managing their finances better,” Goldstuck continues.

In South Africa WhatsApp is free on the Cell C network whereas a MTN or Vodacom user pays with data in order to access the service outside of a Wi-Fi zone.

When it comes to other mobile services such as phone calls, Goldstuck says that one of the reasons that voice calls are so expensive is because the regulator allows networks to charge something called an interconnection fee.

“tThese fees have been slashed over the last four years or so to the level where we now pay fairly reasonable rates for mobile calls. Its still not cheap, but far more reasonable than in the past,” Goldstuck concludes. VOC (Umarah Hartley)

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