WILL SA LICENSE CELLPHONE TV?

Web and Mobile Data_old

Diverse views prevailed at a workshop of telecoms experts in South Africa about the legalities of licensing television on mobiles in South Africa. Speaking at a workshop on the country’s new Electronic Communications Act (EC Act), SABC policy head Lara Kantor said that content to cellphones could be classified as broadcasting and therefore be subject to regulation.

The importance of what Kantor argued is that if radio or TV content on cellphones is not classified as broadcasting, which is constitutionally regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), it could then fall under the regulation of the Film and Publications Board (FPB).

In turn, this raises the possibility of the same content falling under two jurisdictions, and the possibility of “forum shopping” by broadcasters playing off Icasa and the FPB.

The workshop also discussed the meaning of “unidirectional” which was part of the definition of what kind of communication constitutes “broadcasting” in terms of the EC Act.

The question was whether “unidirectional” communication meant that the issue was not the receiving device (whether TV set, computer or cellphone), nor even the actual content at stake, but rather whether the feed was being pushed out or if consumers had to pull down the signal when they wanted it.

In this logic, video content received on cellphones via 3G would not count as ?broadcasting?, but that which came via DVB-H transmission was unequivocally ?unidirectional?. Even if exactly the same content is involved, in this interpretation, the 3G service would then not be regulated by Icasa.

Kantor disagreed, saying it still counted as ?broadcasting?. She suggested that Icasa could still exempt it from licensing. If not, then the regulator should convene an inquiry, she said - arguing in favour of a light touch regulatory regime

A further issue raised by Kantor was where digital broadcasting meant a range of new services, such as an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) or shopping services. She noted that these might require a ?Communications Service? licence, in addition to a ?Broadcast Licence?.

However, she also raised another approach, whereby such services could be seen as incidental to the key business of the company. In this light, they should be bundled as part of a broadcast licence, and not require any extra regulation.

The traditional wide-ranging licence system in South Africa restricted telecoms companies to telephony and broadcasters to broadcasting. The EC Act recognises convergence by redefining licence categories to allow for competition in communications infrastructure, services, broadcasting and signal distribution.

The debate on cellphone TV licensing took place at a workshop presented by the LINK Centre and the Mandela Institute, and supported by Telkom and Webber Wentzel Bowens.

Highway Africa News Agency