Starlink is illegal in South Africa

Telecommunications industry regulator Icasa has warned that using or providing access to SpaceX’s Starlink services in South Africa is illegal.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) issued its warning through an official notice published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday.

It was signed by acting chairperson Yolisa Kedama (pictured).

“The Authority, as a creature of statute, has a responsibility to protect its licensees and consumers by ensuring that there is fair participation and
competition in the market,” the notice stated.

Icasa said any provision of broadcasting and electronic communications services without the necessary service and radio frequency spectrum licences is a direct contravention of the Electronic Communications Act.

It warned that the Icasa Act of 2000 stipulates that anyone who provides a service without a licence or without registering as required is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of up to R5,000,000 or 10% of annual turnover — whichever is greater.

This fine is levied for every day or part thereof during which the offence continued.

Icasa also warned that the ECA stipulates no person may possess, use, supply, sell, offer for sale, lease or hire any type of electronic communications equipment or electronic communication facility, including radio apparatus, unless it has been type-approved.

The regulator encouraged the public to avoid buying or operating equipment like Starlink’s, which has not been properly licensed or type-approved.

“Non-type-approved equipment poses a risk of causing harmful interference to the radio frequency spectrum,” Icasa stated.

“It further causes a lack of dissonance among devices operating in the same environment resulting in equipment not being functional,” the regulator continued.

“Furthermore, equipment which is not type-approved could potentially explode or implode thus putting consumers in harm’s way.”

Icasa said the only Starlink equipment that has been type-approved in South Africa is its Ka-band and V3 Earth Station Gateways, and its router.

Its dish antennas do not appear to have received type approval.

The regulator provided the following table summarising the Starlink equipment that has been type-approved in South Africa.

Application Description Type Holder Applicant Purpose
40120 Starlink Ka Band Gateway (Starlink Ka Band Gateway) Type Approvals Paratus Telecommunications Pty Ltd Paratus Telecommunications Pty Ltd Satellite Tracking Gateway Earth Station with TT&C Functionality
85452 Starlink Satellite Gateway Earth Station Gateway V3) Type Approvals Magic Space Dust Pty Ltd Magic Space Dust Pty Ltd Starlink V3 Gateway Antenna
93421 Starlink Router (UTR-211) Type Approvals Data X Lab (Pty) Ltd Data X Lab (Pty) Ltd Starlink Router

Icasa explained that for operators like Starlink to offer services in South Africa legally, they need Individual Electronic Communications Service (I-ECS) and Individual Electronic Network Service (I-ECNS) licences.

However, there is no open invitation to apply for these licences. Icasa must issue specific invitations to apply.

In the case of I-ECNS licences, Icasa must first wait for a directive from South Africa’s communications minister — currently Mondli Gungubele.

It has been 13 years since Icasa last issued an invitation to apply for I-ECS or I-ECNS licences.

Despite several attempts by MyBroadband to get a direct answer from the regulator about the issue, it would not explain why it hasn’t opened applications in so long.

Even government’s own fibre infrastructure company, Broadband Infraco, has been unable to obtain an I-ECS licence.

Infraco instead published a tender to buy one from another licence holder.

This is also Icasa’s official recommendation for telecom companies wishing to offer services in South Africa.

Mondli Gungubele, South African Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies

“The licensee/transferor must approach the Authority to apply for permission to transfer the licence in terms of section 13 of the ECA,” Icasa said.

Licence transfers attract a fee — but this is small compared to what existing licence holders charge for theirs.

Internet Service Providers Association of South Africa (Ispa) regulatory advisor Dominic Cull has said licences sell for upwards of R1 million.

Furthermore, the Icasa transfer application takes at least five to eight months.

Ispa has pleaded with the minister and Icasa to address the issue, arguing that it is holding back small businesses and transformation in the sector.

One black women-owned Ispa member previously said the licence transfer concept was counterproductive as sellers wanted exorbitant prices, making it difficult for SMMEs to obtain them cost-effectively.

Sadly, it appears the industry’s appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

“In conclusion, the Authority welcomes the advent of technologies that will contribute to ensuring universal service and access to all South Africans and assist in bridging the digital divide,” Icasa stated.

“However, this must be done within the country’s regulatory framework as set out in the [Electronic Communications Act].”

Now read: Starlink rival OneWeb beats SpaceX to South African launch

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Starlink is illegal in South Africa