The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) may lay criminal charges against Thami Mtshali, the CEO of Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), after the company, which owns iBurst, allegedly replaced equipment the telecommunications regulator confiscated on Wednesday, so that it could continue providing services to its customers.
This is according to a well-placed source close to Icasa, with intimate knowledge of this week’s developments, who has told TechCentral that the authority believes that WBS replaced confiscated equipment in order to resume serving its clients — in direct violation of a court order.
The order, obtained on 7 March at the high court in Johannesburg, prevents WBS from conducting business using radio frequency spectrum that Icasa claims it is using illegally.
WBS subsidiaries Broadlink and iBurst experienced serious problems with their networks in Gauteng on Wednesday, with as much as 75% of Broadlink’s network affected. Broadlink provides broadband connectivity to wholesale and business clients.
iBurst, which provides wireless broadband services to consumers, at first attributed the problems to a power outage, but it later emerged that Icasa’s equipment seizures at WBS facilities in Gallo Manor and Bryanston in Johannesburg were to blame.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, iBurst said negotiations between WBS and Icasa were ongoing and that the company would provide feedback once a resolution had been reached.
According to TechCentral’s source, Icasa’s next move in instances where a licensee under its authority is in breach of a court order is to lay criminal charges against the individuals responsible for the transgression, rather than the organisation.
In the case of WBS, this means Icasa’s next move may be to lay criminal charges against Mtshali, because he heads the company. “The equipment is not the crime,” the source says. “The crime is using the frequency.”
On Thursday evening, Mtshali told TechCentral in a telephone interview that WBS had not reconnected the wireless links. “We have rerouted our traffic through [data centre company] Teraco using fibre connections. You don’t need a licence for fibre.”
According to Mtshali, WBS has notified Icasa that this is how it has been able to resume service. The company has not replaced confiscated equipment as claimed by TechCentral’s source, he said.
WBS has nine spectrum licences but, according to the source, six of these have not been paid for, and WBS has been in arrears on its licence fees for three years. Despite this alleged nonpayment of fees, WBS operates 1 522 “illegal” point-to-point connections, according to the source.
But WBS’s alleged noncompliance may just be one example of an industry-wide problem. According to the source, there are about 60 000 instances of the utilisation of spectrum that haven’t been paid for. Of these, many have simply expired or belong to entities no longer operating, but about a third are active connections. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media