South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has delivered its Industry Representative Body (IRB) annual Code of Conduct Report to the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), Mondli Gungubele.

ISPA remains one of the country’s largest representative bodies, made up of both Electronic Communications Service (ECS) and Electronic Communications Networks Service (ECNS) licensees. The report covers the period from January to December 2023, lists 231 ISPA members and highlights the Association’s role as an effective IRB by removing unlawful websites and mediating disputes between consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The report furthermore advises the DCDT on ISPA administrative support for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in the form of up-to-date contact details for more than 500 operators in the Internet and telecoms sector. These contact details make provision for law enforcement agencies to contact a service provider for assistance.

The IRB report finally notes an MoU ISPA signed with the DCDT in May 2023 about collaborating on combatting and strengthening cybersecurity in the Internet industry.

“ISPA enjoys a fruitful working relationship with the current Minister driven by a mutual desire to direct Internet technologies towards lifting economic growth and thereby eradicating poverty,” says ISPA chair, Sasha Booth-Beharilal. “ISPA is pleased to present this latest IRB report to Minister Gungubele as it cements ISPA’s well-deserved status as a recognised IRB.”

Possibly one of the biggest benefits of ISPA membership relates to the Association’s Take-Down Notice (TDN) procedure which is one of the many services offered to all ISPA members and protects them from liability for content that is hosted on, or transited through, their networks. In order to qualify for this protection, ISPs must have a process in place for handling take-down notifications and must also be a member of ISPA.

ISPA’s report to the Minister highlighted that about three to four “problematic” websites are removed from the local Internet every week in terms of the Association’s take-down procedure.

During 2023, ISPA accepted 203 take-down notices (out of an initial 600 requests) and passed these on to the relevant members. In 195 cases, content was soon removed or blocked by either the ISP concerned, or their client. In the lion’s share of instances (64), intellectual property rights were allegedly infringed. Some 17 take-down notices were related to phishing sites, while 58 take-down notices centred on material designed to defraud or mislead the public.

ISPA notes that, for the last six years, yearly take-down notice volumes have plateaued at around 600 requests (2022: 612). The percentage of requests that ISPA is able to process typically hovers around the 34% mark. Notices are most often rejected due to the target not being an ISPA member.

ISPA furthermore received 1 616 requests during 2023 as part of the consumer mediation process it has been operating since 2019 to rapidly resolve consumer complaints. In 2022, the figure was 1 333. On average, these complaints have grown 15% a year for the past four years.

In 2023, 904 complaints were accepted and 712 were rejected either because insufficient information was provided, the company involved was not an ISPA member or the request did not relate to an Internet service. Billing disputes, quality of service, and contract cancellations were the top three issues.

For the 904 mediation requests accepted by ISPA, 441 were confirmed as successfully resolved using the mediation process, 183 were passed on to the relevant member, but the complainant ceased communication so ISPA was unable to confirm resolution, 153 were withdrawn by the complainant, 49 could not be resolved and were closed without further action, 31 could not be resolved using the medication process and were escalated to formal complaints and 47 were still pending at the time of writing.