Press release: “Net Neutrality” A Non-issue in South Africa for the Present, Says ISPAPublished on: 2014-08-11
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has made a strong recommendation to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to steer clear of any regulatory intervention regarding Net neutrality. The recommendation comes in ISPA’s submission to ICASA’s high-level enquiry into the state of competition in the ICT sector.
While there is no universally accepted definition of Net neutrality, it generally refers to the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally; in particular that preferential pricing should not be used to hinder the free flow of information across the Internet.
“This is a particular problem in the United States because cable providers there tend to dominate the Internet access market as a whole and there is an effective monopoly (or at best a duopoly),” says Dominic Cull, ISPA’s regulatory advisor. “It’s not a particularly helpful debate for us in South Africa as our market is at a different stage of development. We face a different set of issues in order to ensure fair competition here.”
At the most fundamental level, ISPA believes that shaping bandwidth should be recognised as a normal, day-to-day part of network operations. The key point to emphasise here is that consumers need to be made aware of this fact, and understand the nature of the service they are purchasing. To ensure that the industry can communicate these concepts effectively, ISPA has developed a terminology guideline to help providers describe services in such a way that they can be compared.
Cull stresses that ISPA stands behind fair competition when it comes to Internet access and content services, with the customer’s ability to make an informed choice paramount.
“At this stage, rules should be primarily directed at prohibiting network operators from unfairly prioritising their own network traffic over the traffic from other operators,” he says. “But if an ISP’s customer wants to buy a service that is prioritised in some way, then he or she should be able to do so. The same is true for content providers.
“The principle we need to follow should be that when a consumer buys a premium service, it should not affect the service offered to other consumers.”
Ensuring that these options are offered and provided fairly, Cull adds, can easily be regulated by existing competition law, as well as the Electronic Communications Act. However, in order to prepare itself for further developments, it would be worthwhile for the regulator to reach an understanding of the underlying forces that are informing the debate elsewhere. In that way, South Africa could hope to avoid the issue of Net neutrality ever becoming an issue in the future.
For further information, please contact the ISPA secretariat on the Contact ISPA page.