Service providers face off with Icasa over licences - TechCentral

Service providers face off with Icasa over licences

Dominic Cull

Tensions are simmering between Internet service providers and industry regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), following the conversion of telecommunications licences last year.

Over the past two weeks, Icasa has sent letters to network and service licensees demanding to know what they’ve done with their new licences, TechCentral has learnt.

Hundreds of Internet service providers had their licences converted last year after Altech’s stunning high court victory against former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri.

The Altech judgment has effectively opened the market to all-comers who want to build network infrastructure in competition with incumbents Telkom, Neotel and mobile operators Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.

But now Icasa is turning up the heat on the companies that have been given new licences under the Electronic Communications Act, demanding proof of services and networks they have built.

The authority has issued the letters in terms of the standard terms and conditions for licences, which were published in 2008. Network licensees have 12 months to submit this information to Icasa; service licensees have six months.

However, the Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa), an industry body, has written to Icasa warning it not to institute disciplinary measures against any of its members. It says any attempt to do so will be “vigorously opposed”.

In its letter, Ispa says the “ability of licensees to exercise their rights … has been severely, if not fatally, compromised by the failure of the authority to finalise a large number of regulations contemplated in the Electronic Communications Act”.

“The primary example of this is the failure … to finalise a framework for the assignment of licensed spectrum in, inter alia, the 2,6GHz and 3,5GHz radio frequency spectrum bands,” Ispa says. “It is abundantly obvious that such failure curtails the ability of licensees to commence the provision of [network services].”

Ispa says also that it would be unfair to punish its members given that Icasa must still finalise regulations governing interconnection, facilities leasing, spectrum pricing, carrier pre-selection, and a range of other issues.

“Ispa has written to the authority on a number of occasions requesting information regarding its progress in finalising these and other matters,” it says. “Unfortunately, no substantive response has been received.”

The association adds that the regulatory framework was supposed to be finalised before licences were converted. Since this has not occurred, “Ispa is of the view that this has direct relevance to any enforcement proceedings which the authority may seek to undertake”.

Ispa regulatory adviser Dominic Cull (pictured at top) says Internet service providers should submit as much information as possible to Icasa. “They have the right to ask for the information, so by all means send it in,” Cull says.

Ispa’s letter to Icasa also states that the Internet body does not dispute the regulatory authority’s right to request information from licensees. “Indeed, it is currently prejudiced by the lack of information which it has in respect of the electronic communications industry, which of itself is a bar to effective regulation of that industry.”

Icasa spokesman Jubie Matlou says the authority has no comment for now but says it will furnish Ispa with a response to its letter in due course.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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