Although ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of SA) has decided not to challenge a court decision allowing VANS (value-added network services) organisations to self-provide, the Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casburri has decided to appeal the judgement.
Three weeks ago (29 August), the Pretoria High Court ruled in favour of Altech Autopage Cellular to the entitlement of having its existing 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.
The ruling would make it legally possible for as many as 300 organisations to build their own networks, although they are unlikely to all do so. However, the increased competition, and the ability to bypass Telkom, was welcomed by the industry as hailing a better service with lower prices.
ICASA announced almost immediately that it would not appeal the judgement and began to facilitate the licencing process. New licencees included Altech Autopage, Datapro (Vox Telecom), MTN Network Solutions, M-Web, ECN Telecommunications and Telfree – all of whom would have been able to collect their new licences this week.
The Minister has thrown a new spanner in the works with Friday's announcement that she would appeal.
Her spokeman says she instuct ICASA to invite companies to apply for new I-ECNS licences in accordance with the implementation of the managed liberalisation policy.
In the meantime, the Department is set to fast-track an amendment to the Electronic Communications Act that will remove ambiguity and ensure that companies holding VANS licences are not entitled to simply convert them to I-ECNS licences.