Adding to the woes of electricity-starved South Africans is news that many of us may face information black-outs because some wireless Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are providing illegal Internet access to consumers.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is cracking down on those wireless ISPs who do not hold an Electronic Communications Service licence and are using the public 2.4 GHz frequency band for commercial purposes.
This frequency band cannot be used to build and sell services on because it is limited for use in Local Area Networks (Lans) such as office parks or homes.
“Consumers who didn’t carefully choose wireless ISPs with solid regulatory track records now face disconnection as Icasa cracks down on illegal operators,” says Antony McKechnie, iBurst’s head of product development. “Many offending wireless ISPs are not even aware that they need a Value Added Network Service (VANS) licence to provide commercial Internet access services.”
Adding to consumers’ connectivity concerns is the mistaken belief among some ISPs that VANS licence holders can build their own infrastructure.
“An Electronic Communications Service licence (previously a VANS licence) does not extend to the self-provision of infrastructure such as fixed-lines and networks,” says McKechnie. “This is where many wireless ISPs are found to be held in breach of the law. Only certain operators such as iBurst are licenced to build their own public communications networks.”
While wireless technologies have been revolutionary in bridging the “digital divide” in under-served communities and particularly rural areas of South Africa, illegal operators have hampered the roll-out process of legitimate and regulated services. Icasa has taken a hard line with non-compliant wireless ISPs by either shutting down their operations or confiscating equipment.
The telecommunications frequency spectrum is a limited resource and its use must be carefully managed and controlled, says McKechnie. Illegal operators put the frequency spectrum at risk of becoming cluttered and this could result in a flood of interruptions on other frequency bands.
“Licence conditions stipulate certain minimum service standards and make operators liable for contraventions,” he says. “Consumers are therefore at risk of paying unlicensed operators for a sub-standard service.”