Should Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Be Regulated?

Trycolyn Pikirayi Avatar
Wifi Internet

Currently, there are no laws that directly govern Internet Service Providers (ISP) e.g. Frampol . You might have assumed that these are being regulated by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), but no.

However, it is the Internet Access Providers (IAP) which are regulated by POTRAZ . IAPs are the companies that provide ISPs or even individuals with access to the Internet. Therefore, IAPs can be Internet Service Providers themselves (since they are basically internet suppliers), but the major difference between ISPs and IAPs is that an IAP has the equipment and the telecommunication line access required to have POP on the Internet for the geographic area served.

Zimbabwe being a landlocked country, gets most of its broadband supply from South Africa through the IAP Liquid Telecom. It is on such IAPs that all regulations that include Quality of Service (QoS) are applied. In turn, these regulations where applicable are imposed on the ISPs through their IAPs.

In essence, it means that an ISP business has no direct laws that apply to it as an ISP in Zimbabwe (as would an IAP) , it just needs to be registered and then abide by the laws of its registration.

Therefore the next question would be: Are there any problems associated with this model of governance?

The answer there is yes and no.

Yes in that if no laws are set to govern a certain industry, abuse is inevitable. This often affects the customers. Businesses can potentially connive and/or overcharge their customers. It is also possible for the incentive to produce quality service to be compromised in such a situation. But then again, that’s assuming they do connive otherwise if not, market factors can take care of that.

Secondly, this model can affect the ISPs and IAPs themselves, mostly the ISPs because they are at a place of disadvantage when faced with competition from IAPs. As I mentioned earlier on, IAPs can basically provide internet even to individuals, this means that they share the market with ISPs.

IAPs can target the same internet end user as that of the ISP. Now because IAPs sell their internet at a wholesale price and do not need a mark up price that ISPs would need for their businesses to make sense, they can easily win over the customers.

Apart from that, IAPs can easily sabotage ISPs to keep them out of the game since they function as both their supplier and competition. This therefore begs the need for a revised regulatory framework that recognises ISPs so that they can be protected and by so doing ‘create a level playing field’ for these players.

Now the no comes into play when we consider license fees. For IAPs, initial class A licensing can go up to as much as 4 million United States dollars (US$4 mill) and there I haven’t even mentioned other annual obligations that need to be met. Of course, ISPs will potentially demand less but still. Licensing might suffocate players and as such, force them off the playing field – and we all know too well what happens when a few key players are left to be in the field.

Again, POTRAZ says that although it had intentionally avoided ‘over regulating’ the ICT industry with the hope of promoting competition, it now sees the cons of not regulating ISP outweighing the pros. In April last year, it seemed as though POTRAZ was now ready to go for it but until now nothing has come up. In fact, this move started as early as in 2010 when POTRAZ invited all IAPs and ISPs to a consultation meeting in order to map a way forward on that matter.

Nevertheless, one might argue that even without the hassle of a license, there still aren’t as many ISPs as the country needs, so what difference will licensing make? Valid point. Is the problem even with ISPs or it’s more with IAPs since ISPs heavily rely on IAPs? If IAPs, then we’re definitely looking at it the wrong way. Should more energy be channeled towards ‘fixing’ the IAP field instead?

What do you think?


  1. Tonderai

    Yes they should be regulated in terms of QoS and Ts&Cs given to customers. There is a very disconcerting tendency to throttle service without actually stating explicitly what qualifies for normal and above-normal usage.

  2. Gondo

    Actually there are laws governing Telco, Africom and Powertel because they are not just ISPs they are actually IAPs ZOL, Yo!Africa and uMax are examples of ISPs. Most are just branches or subsidiaries of IAPs so …

  3. Unimpressed

    Guys please ensure you fact check your articles before you put them out because if you look on the POTRAZ website you will discover that most of the companies you listed above as unregulated ISPs are actually IAPs and therefore fully regulated by POTRAZ and most ISPs currently operating are subsidiaries of existing IAPs. Therefore your article ceases to make sense in light of the above.

    1. Trycolyn Pikirayi

      An oversight on my part, I apologise. Was of the impression that since they are both IAPs and ISPs, they can then still be used as an example of ISPs. Why them? I figured they were much more common and readers could easily be relate to them. Clearly I was wrong.
      thanks for that

      1. it

        lol, duh !!!

  4. Normie

    Yes we need regulation in order to create a level playing field. Currently the ISPs we have are basically subsidiaries of the IAPs. The prevailing circumstances are unfair since IAPs are also servicing end retail users, which should basically be the market base for ISPs. We currently have very few players in the field because there is no clear cut line between IAPs and IAPs in terms regulation. This also saffocates the industry in terms of innovative end products and services.
    However the schedule of licence fees initially proposed by POTRAZ are prohibitive. For instance $30k is asking for too much from an ordinary start-up. We need a policy that restricts IAPs from reaching out to the market base for ISPs and maybe just small licensing fees. The rest will fall in place

  5. Anonymous

    Lol this article should be exploring the regulations ISP & IAP have to follow an how it hinders them from providing better QOS coverage and price

  6. Tjiyapo Velempini

    There is a need to grow the ICT Sector by clearly seperating the ISP from the bigger IAP. The current scenario has led to a lot of incest / price manipulation in the market. The structure should be such that there are few IAP but a wide variety of ISP being serviced by the IAP market. The current scenario where new ISP entrants are cowed out of the market through bandwidth price manipulation must be stopped. We need more ISP registered and allowed to operate by clearly stipulating and enforcing stringent antimonopoly regulations for those wanting to operate in both sectors. That will see the price of data drop as the completion hots up at a consumer level.