Inspectors from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) with “malicious intent vandalised iBurst’s network equipment”, causing damage of at least R40 million to R50 million. This is according to iBurst CEO Thami Mtshali.
The iBurst network was taken down on Wednesday 3 April after inspectors from ICASA entered the premises of WBS, including the company’s data centre, and seized network equipment without prior notice.
Mtshali told MyBroadband that ICASA’s actions came out of the blue, without any warning or explanation from the regulator.
He explained that they received a letter from ICASA chairman Stephen Mncube stating that the regulator would revert to iBurst about a negotiated settlement following four days after the court order for equipment seizure was issued.
“The letter from Mncube clearly nullified the court order,” said Mtshali. He added that the court order was only for wireless equipment, which did not give ICASA the right to confiscate any equipment in the iBurst data centre.
Malicious intent from ICASA inspectors
Mtshali said that the “unwarranted” action against iBurst boils down to bad luck. “There was clearly malicious intent from the ICASA inspectors who vandalised our equipment,” said Mtshali.
He said that the ICASA inspectors were supposed to be well trained, but that they “threw telecoms equipment worth millions” on the back of a truck and drove around with it without consideration of the damage which they caused.
Mtshali said that giving ICASA inspectors the power to take down a network without oversight from the ICASA council is simply not on. “We should revisit these regulations,” said Mtshali.
Tens of millions in damage
Mtshali said that he estimates the damage in the confiscation of the data centre equipment to be between R40 million and R50 million – at least.
He explained that during the downtime they could not do billing runs, sign up new clients or measure bandwidth usage. The damage stretches far beyond the damage to equipment, said Mtshali.
The estimated damage, said Mtshali, does not take reputation damage and subsequent loss of business into account.
The iBurst CEO highlighted that MTN, one of their largest clients, has already indicated that they will move some of their links away from them.
ICASA inspectors could not be found
Mtshali said that the ICASA inspectors who confiscated their equipment were nowhere to be found when the court ruled that the regulator should return their equipment.
He said that ICASA’s management could not find the inspectors when they had to return the equipment, and no one at the regulator knew where the confiscated iBurst equipment was stored.
According to Mtshali, the equipment was finally returned around midnight on Friday 5 April – three hours after the issued deadline. This means that the regulator was in contempt of court.
“What example does the regulator set if it does not obey the courts,” asked Mtshali.
Mtshali apologised for the downtime and the disruptions to their clients, saying that it will never happen again.
“ICASA will never pull something like this again. They did not understand the magnitude of the impact of their actions,” said Mtshali.
“I will permanently keep my ear to the ground to guard against ICASA inspectors with malicious intent,” he quipped.
ICASA was asked for feedback about their actions, but they did not provide feedback by the time of publication.