Self-regulation the key to success of SA’s WASP industry.

Published on: 30th June 2009

Self-regulation by South Africa’s mobile content, messaging and application service providers is one of the key reasons that this industry has enjoyed such strong growth over the past few years.

That’s according to Leon Perlman, the chairman of South Africa’s Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA), the industry body that oversees industry practices in this fast-growing and dynamic industry.

WASPA was launched in 2004 by WASPs with the full backing of the country’s cellular operators. Since then, it has played a vital role in growing the industry by protecting the rights of consumers and its members. South Africa is one of few countries where the industry is self-regulating.

In the UK, the equivalent to WASPA, PhonePayPlus, reports to the telecom regulator Ofcom and has procedures against service provider infringements of their “Code of Practice.” The US’s Mobile Marketing Association has guidelines for mobile marketing in its “Code of Conduct” as well as “Consumer Best Practices Standards,” but no regulatory role in the industry.

WASPA consults closely with international bodies such Phonepayplus (formerly ICSTIS) to share best practices and information. It has earned respect from the likes of Phonepayplus for its success in regulating the industry while creating an environment that supports growth and innovation.

“A framework of appropriate rules that is consistently enforced is critical to the growth of any industry. At the same time, too much red-tape and too many regulations can stifle innovation and growth,” said Perlman.

“Introducing self-regulation through WASPA has allowed the industry to police itself while remaining flexible in the face of changing technologies.”

WASPA was established after ethical service providers and network operators realised that scams, spamming and other unethical practices were damaging the industry, said Perlman. The aim of the association is to instil consumer and business confidence in the WASP industry by setting out and enforcing clear rules for the industry that balance the interests of all stakeholders.

The WASPA Code of Conduct, which most of South Africa’s major WASPs subscribe to, outlines in detail how the organisation’s members should conduct themselves in their interactions with the public, including how they advertise their services, their billing procedures, unsubscribe procedures, and the type of content they may carry.

The Code of Conduct has real teeth since WASPA can sanction members who break the rules with penalties that range from hefty fines to suspension from the organisation. It also provides a mechanism through which members of the public can address grievances with service providers that engage in bad practices like spamming or misleading consumers about subscription fees.

“As an industry body, WASPA can evolve alongside the industry and change its Code of Conduct more rapidly than a regulator or government could write new regulations and laws,” said Perlman. “That means that we are able to respond to new problems and opportunities very quickly.”

Self-regulation has given South Africa’s mobile industry the freedom to innovate and grow, while protecting consumers and businesses against abuses, he added. Without an association such as WASPA to police the industry and show that it can resolve consumer grievances on its own, government or ICASA might feel compelled to step in and implement regulations that would limit innovation.