Cellular network Cell C is seeking to position Cell C as the consumers’ champion against rivals Vodacom and MTN
Cell C, the smallest of South Africa’s ‘big three’ cellular networks, has started a PR war against bigger rivals Vodacom and MTN by saying they have “declared war on consumer interests” in their efforts to have parliament regulate the activities of WhatsApp and other Internet players such as Twitter and WeChat.
The country’s parliament begins hearing this week after Vodacom and MTN complained that these data-based services – referred to in the industry as over-the-top or OTT Internet players – are ‘freeloading’ off the expensive national cellular infrastructure created by the cellphone companies.
But Jose de Santos, the CEO of Cell C, has taken an opposing stance and seems to be seeking to position Cell C as the consumers’ champion on the issue. In a hard-hitting statement released last week, he calls the two “an infamous duopoly” whose actions have “nothing to do with fairness, competition or the future of South Africa. To the contrary, it is all about maintaining their stranglehold on a vital artery feeding our country's economic and social future”.
His statement continues: “Regulation would impose new costs. Costs that will either prompt OTT players to withdraw their services from South Africa or push up prices for the consumer; the very consumer that already pays for the data to use those services.”
His company’s standpoint was that OTT services encouraged consumers to participate more, Dos Santos said. “The more they participate, the more they spend. Cell C is still a business and must make money. But good companies adapt and change to create new opportunities for themselves and their customers. Bad companies manipulate the system to only get what they want – the customer doesn't matter.”
Dos Santos’ stance has found support elsewhere too. Writing in the latest issue of the ‘Financial Mail’ business magazine, industry expert Toby Shapshank notes: “These networks have missed the point … [they] need to refocus on their new roles in the larger ecosystem and become better at competing with each other as leaner, more efficient businesses.”