News that the Internet Society and African IXP Association (AFIX) are set to hold the 9th annual Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) during iWeek in Cape Town in August has seen increased interest in South Africa’s leading Internet industry conference and its founder, ISPA.
ISPA (the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa) has emerged as a leading advocate for South African and African Internet industry liberalisation. In fact, it was out of a desire to level the monopolised local telecommunications playing field of the 1990s that ISPA was formed.
On 6 June 1996, nine South African pioneering Internet Service Providers (ISPs) got together and decided the formation of ISPA was critical if the country’s underperforming telecoms sector was to flourish. Barriers to competition had to be broken down with urgency and ISPA was the vehicle to do it. Telkom, the state-controlled ICT entity, enjoyed a monopoly over key telecoms services and this was threatening to undo many of the early gains realised during South Africa’s transition to democracy.
Things moved along swiftly following the Association’s formation. ISPA helped influence and shape telecommunications policy in SA and launched competition complaints against Telkom which have redefined the competitive landscape for communications in South Africa. In total, during the last two decades, ISPA has weathered three regulatory authorities, eight telecommunications ministers and three major overhauls of the legislative framework governing communications services.
However, ISPA’s most important Internet advocacy activities have not been limited to the regulatory and legislative spheres. Its founding year of 1996 saw ISPA members establish the Johannesburg Internet Exchange (JINX), an African first and the forerunner of the many INXes that exist today in SA and on the continent. Today JINX (Johannesburg Internet Exchange), CINX (Cape Town Internet Exchange) and DINX (Durban Internet Exchange) offer multisite peering opportunities helping to keep South African internet traffic local and thereby reducing the costs to communicate.
The year 2000 saw the launch of ISPA’s Teachers’ Training program that will again feature during 2018’s iWeek. This initiative was launched to provide computer and Internet literacy to South African teachers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The very first iWeek was hosted in 2001 by ISPA and UniForum SA (today, ZACR) and ISPA formally looked to the continent for the first time by becoming a founder member of AfrISPA that same year.
As the Internet industry has matured, ISPA has increasingly played a role in ensuring that consumers receive reliable and reputable services from members. Its Code of Conduct plays a leading role in this regard. The iWeek conference that ISPA has co-hosted annually since 2001 is another primary example of ISPA activities going beyond the original mandate of the Association in pursuit of the greater good of the SA and African ICT sector.
ISPA is always on the lookout for ways to enhance its effectiveness. In 2009, ISPA was officially recognised as an Industry Representative Body (IRB) by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services.
In June 2016, ISPA transitioned from a voluntary association to an incorporated Non-Profit Company, with a Board of Directors elected directly by ISPA’s members. Today, ISPA membership is open to any organisation providing Internet access or related services in South Africa. While the majority of ISPA’s members are commercial operators, membership is open to non-profit organisations, and ISPA counts universities, schools’ networks, parastatals and wireless user groups amongst its members.