Altech has hailed its victory in the Pretoria High Court as a of extreme significance for the whole telecommunications industry, and one that will have far-reaching implications for all users.
On Friday the Pretoria High Court ruled in favour of Altech Autopage Cellular to the entitlement of having its existing Value Added Network Services (VANS) licence converted into an individual electronic communications network service (I-ECNS) licence, enabling the group’s telecommunications subsidiary to develop and operate its own telecommunications network.
The Honourable Acting Judge Davis instituted that South African bylaw obliges the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to issue network provider licenses to VANS licensees such as Altech.
Acting Judge Davis also ruled in favour of Altech’s relief that the Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi acted beyond the scope of her statutory powers when she directed ICASA to issue I-ECNS licences to only some (as opposed to all) VANS licensees, contrary to the law.
“This is an undisputed victory not only for Altech but for the whole of the South African telecommunications industry and we are proud to have been pioneers in breaking competitive ground in what has been a long closed playing field," says Altech CEO, Craig Venter.
"Altech has long supported a competitive and impartial licensing process from ICASA. Today’s verdict serves as testimony to signal an open, transparent and level environment in telecommunications."
After having received no reply on several correspondence attempts to Icasa, in order to avoid litigation, including a letter to the Department of Communications in April of this year imploring clarification on various draft documents issued by the telecommunications regulator, Altech had no choice but to serve a high court application on the telecommunications regulator shortly after.
The Altech court application sought to obtain clarification on whether companies issued with a VANS license are automatically entitled to receive an I-ECNS licence under the Electronic Communications Act. This would allow such licence holders to develop their own telecommunications networks independently of other licensed infrastructure operators, therefore not having to operate as resellers.
The application came after ICASA had issued various draft documents in which it stated its intentions to issue network provider licenses to only a select few of existing VANS licensees namely Vox Datapro; Internet Solutions; M-Web; Global Web Intact, and Verizon, amongst others, within a process that Altech perceived to be defective and unlawful.
Venter says" “This ruling vindicates our position in light of accusations made that Altech was delaying the process, when we actually were simply seeking clarity.
“We undertook to get clarity on a matter which at the end of the day affects the South African consumer and businesses alike in terms of having access to a wider range of telecommunications providers and ultimately seeing reduced rates in voice and data services. Given the current challenges in our country, this decision affirms our faith in the judiciary.
“Both consumers and industry experts have criticized the high tariffs of South African telecommunications services which are amongst the most expensive in the world. Altech is pleased to have played its part in reversing this trend in the medium-to-long term and we thank those supporters who have endorsed and shared our vision,” Venter adds.