The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) will face off with Amatole Telecommunication Services, the Eastern Cape company that trades as Easttel, on 29 May. This follows a raid by Icasa on the operator’s facilities on Wednesday that led to an interruption in voice and Internet services for its customers.
TechCentral broke the news of the raid, which led to Icasa seizing communications equipment belonging to Amatole, on Wednesday night. The authority, with the assistance of members of the South African Police Service, also sealed an equipment storeroom belonging to the company.
The parties will meet in the circuit division of the high court in East London unless an agreement is reached out of court in the next two weeks.
Easttel services were restored on Wednesday evening after the court ordered that a search warrant issued by the magistrate’s court be suspended and set aside and that all equipment seized be returned.
Icasa claims it went after Amatole because of unpaid annual licence fees, some of which it says date back three years. It says the company owes it more than R220 000.
Amatole operates a WiMax network in the 3,5GHz radio frequency spectrum band and has microwave links in the 13GHz and 23GHz bands.
Although the operator had agreed last year to settle at least some of its debt over a six-month period, only two payments were received — in October and November last year — Icasa claims.
Amatole operations director Mark Gray says no equipment was damaged in the raid and that services were fully restored by last night. Amatole has yet to see the affidavit upon which the search-and-seizure warrant was based and the company will investigate how it was granted, he says.
Amatole submitted three separate letters to Icasa acknowledging that there were outstanding licence fees and applying again for certain licences. On 29 April, Icasa acknowledged receipt of correspondence from Amatole, making the raid “strange”, Gray says.
“Icasa didn’t deliver the affidavit to us, and when I printed out the letter showing our application for renewals and the details we were contesting, the Icasa inspectors said they already had the document. But in that case why [did Icasa] still seize equipment?”
When Gray and Amatole regulatory adviser Dominic Cull contacted Icasa’s legal department following the raid, it claimed it was unaware of what had happened. Gray says Amatole also received an e-mail from the authority on Wednesday claiming that it had been trying to contact Amatole telephonically but without success.
Gray says Icasa’s raid was against its mandate. “Icasa has two mandates: to protect consumers and to regulate the industry. Seizing equipment and disrupting services is certainly not in consumers’ best interests.”
Cull says Icasa “must stop indulging in crass stupidity”. Shutting down a service inconveniences consumers, which the courts aren’t inclined to look upon kindly. “There has to be a more nuanced approach to these difficulties. You have to enforce the law. No one’s quibbling about that. But you also need to ensure consumer interests aren’t secondary.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Image: Atomic Taco/Flickr