The Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA) recently started proceedings in the High Court of South Africa aimed at bringing much-needed clarity to the Value Added Network Service (VANS) industry and the rights of holders of VANS licences.
WAPA believes that VANS have held the right to self provide since 1 February 2005 after the Minister of Communications published a policy direction to this effect in September 2004, notwithstanding a press release issued on 30 January 2005 in which the Minister attempted to clarify her earlier policy direction.
Recent comments from ICASA councilor Marcia Socikwa however shed serious doubt on the legality of self provisioning for VANS.
On 17 March 2008, ICASA Councillor Marcia Socikwa made an oral statement at the commencement of hearings into the conversion of VANS licences in which she made it clear that ICASA’s position was that there were no infrastructure rights attached to VANS licences and that they were accordingly not entitled to self-provide.
If Socikwa’s comments are indeed ICASA’s legal position it means that numerous wireless providers country wide, including large players like Internet Solutions (IS), Uninet and Amobia, are operating illegally.
Internet Solutions’ head of regulatory affairs Siyabonga Madyibi recently said that there is no doubt that the company is operating within the law.
Madyibi said that as long as a company is in possession of a VANS license, employing unlicensed spectrum and abiding by the rules governing the use of unlicensed spectrum, it can definitely built its own network and provide services over it. He further said that current VANS license holders should maintain the right to self provide when their VANS licenses are converted into ECS licenses.
IS is currently providing commercial services over its WiNet platform, serving clients with high speed wireless last mile access.
IS is however mum on the latest developments. Madyibi said that the company is currently in ‘serious discussions with ICASA’ about this issue and would therefore not like to comment.
ICASA was asked to clarify their position on the self provisioning of VANS, but to date the regulator did not provide any feedback.