Internet Solutions (IS) is positioning itself to be the country's latest fully-fledged telecommunications operator, says CEO Angus MacRobert, following communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri's budget vote speech last week.

Matsepe-Casaburri said she had directed the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to urgently consider whether none, or only certain, of the existing value-added network services (VANS) licensees can be authorised to provide services and operate electronic communications facilities or networks.

Essentially, this means ICASA should consider whether some licensed VANS can be granted electronic network service provider licences, in terms of the Electronic Communications Act. This would give IS, and other VANS that qualify, similar rights and privileges as Telkom and Neotel.

MacRobert says the minister's policy directives show the department has realised liberalisation has not been as fast as it should have. He notes the policy directive, if it comes to fruition, allows IS to realise its ambition to become a “new age telco”.

The Communications Users Association of SA (CUASA) has welcomed the minister's policy directives with caution. “This is great news, assuming something comes of it,” says CUASA spokesman Ray Webber.

He says the directives provide clarity on the issue of whether VANS can self-provide. “We live in hope this matter will finally be resolved, thereby allowing some real competition for many telecoms services.”

MacRobert and IS senior regulatory officer Siyabonga Madyibi believe the policy directives would not be a replay of the notorious 2004 ministerial determinations, which initially allowed VANS to self-provide, but were later withdrawn.

Madyibi adds IS is confident ICASA would be able to justify why it, and possibly other large VANS, should be able to qualify for full electronic network service provider licences that would provide them with an international gateway. Such a finding would be based on objective criteria, and size and resources will be important, as infrastructure provision is a capital-intensive exercise, he notes.

MacRobert says IS is well positioned to adopt an aggressive strategy, as once it is freed of the 126c interconnection rate, it could drop its per minute call charge to 17c per minute, while the mobile operators would still be at around 186c. He notes IS would be prepared to supply fixed-line and wireless voice solutions to the corporate and consumer markets.