It appears the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is not going let up in in its effort to tackle companies it believes are not paying their dues for use of radio frequency spectrum. The authority on Wednesday raided the facilities of an Eastern Cape telecommunications operator, just weeks after doing the same to iBurst parent company Wireless Business Solutions (WBS).
A source close to Icasa with knowledge of the situation tells TechCentral that the authority obtained a search-and-seizure warrant from the magistrate’s court in East London, allowing it to raid the premises of Amatole Telecommunication Services, which trades as Easttel. Amatole is one of the underserviced area licensees which was granted full telecoms licences and access to spectrum under then-minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri as part of an effort to extend communications services into more outlying parts of the country.
TechCentral was unable to reach an Amatole spokesman on Wednesday night, but a notice on the company’s website says voice and data services to its customers have been disrupted, without explaining the cause of the disruption. It’s believed the matter was headed to court late on Thursday.
(Update: The circuit division of the high court in East London on Wednesday evening ordered that the search warrant issued by the magistrate’s court be suspended or set aside and that all equipment seized in Icasa’s raid be returned. A storeroom containing communications equipment belonging to Amatole and sealed by Icasa during the raid should also be unsealed and opened, the court ordered. It’s understood services to the company’s customers were restored on Wednesday night, following the high court order.)
Icasa inspectors, accompanied by members of the police, seized communications equipment that the company uses to provide services to end users. The equipment was located on a Telkom-owned structure located at the corner of Buffalo Street and Park Avenue in East London.
In an affidavit to the magistrate’s court requesting the warrant against Amatole, Icasa inspector Deon de Kock says Amatole has more than R220 000 in outstanding licence fees owing to the regulator.
It’s understood that Amatole/Easttel had been providing broadband services to consumers in East London using WiMax technology. Icasa apparently went after Amatole after it allegedly failed to pay its annual licence fees for the past three years. Icasa sources say it owes the authority R240 000 for one particular licence, and a further R170 000 for another.
Although Amatole had agreed to settle at least some of its debt over a six-month period, it made only two payments — in October and November last year — the Icasa source says.
Icasa’s move comes just five weeks after its controversial raid on six facilities owned by WBS, which caused downtime for users in Gauteng who subscribe to the networks of WBS subsidiary companies iBurst and Broadlink. Later that same week, the high court granted WBS an urgent interdict in terms of which Icasa was forced to return all of the equipment seized during the raids.
WBS accused Icasa of vandalising iBurst equipment and causing it enormous reputational damage through its actions. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- More to follow on Thursday morning