ISPs to Sue Icasa If Licences Delayed Further in South Africa


The telecoms industry regulator is on a collision course with companies that are ready to build their own networks, by instigating a long-winded process to issue licences that the high court has declared they are already entitled to.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has issued a document saying it is ready to convert now defunct telecoms licences, but it is calling for comments on the process, which will delay the issuing until next year. That has incensed the Electronic Communications Network (ECN), which is threatening Icasa with legal action if it does not hand over its licence immediately.

Icasa has acted rapidly by declaring itself ready to issue the valuable licences, which will let hundreds of voice and data carriers, such as internet service providers, build their own facilities. The regulator is not waiting to see whether Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri is planning to make one final effort to overturn the court decision that granted them that right.

The minister has already been refused permission to challenge the high court verdict, but she could raise the stakes by petitioning the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal. Far from being pleased with Icasa's action, ECN's legal representative, Werksmans Attorneys, has written to the regulator, saying it will seek a court order forcing Icasa to hand over the licence now.

Altech, the company that won the legal ruling, is also likely to put legal pressure on Icasa not to follow its proposed consultation process, especially since the court ordered Icasa to issue the licences speedily on November 7, when it refused the minister's application to appeal.

"Our client, in the light of the growing prejudice that it faces as a result of Icasa's delay, sees no alternative other than to proceed to obtain an order compelling Icasa to immediately issue it with the licences to which it is entitled," Werksman s said in a letter to the regulator.

Icasa is planning to convert the old licences into the new variety after inviting written representations from the industry on the conversion process. Icasa gives applicants until December 5 to make comments. Companies applying for a licence would then have to submit a plethora of details, making it far from a straight like-for-like swap.

They are expected to give Icasa a technical plan, define the scale of their networks roll-out, give details of their efforts to boost social and economic development in the country, and state their black empowerment profile.

Business Day