Communications minister to oppose ruling on VANS

Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri will appeal against a high court ruling permitting value-added network services (VANS) to build their own telecommunications networks, her office said on Friday.

“The Minister of Communications, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, after due consideration of the Altech Cellular judgement, has decided to appeal against the judgement delivered on the 29th of August 2008 in the high court,” her office said in a statement.

Last month, the Transvaal Division of the high court ruled in favour of an urgent application brought by Altech Autopage Cellular on the question of whether VANS should be allowed to build their own networks.

Altech Cellular’s court action followed Matsepe-Casaburri’s refusal to grant VANS permission to do so.

At the time of the court ruling, media analyst and commentator on information and communications technology Arthur Goldstuck wrote on the Mail & Guardian Online‘s Thought Leader blogging platform: “When Justice Norman Davis ruled in the high court this morning that VANS must be allowed to provide their own networks — and that the regulator is obliged to grant the appropriate licence to any network that chooses to do so — he heralded the beginning of a truly competitive environment in telecommunications.”

Goldstuck explained that the court case “was brought by Altech Autopage against the telecoms regulator, Icasa, essentially to force Icasa to issue a new category of telecoms licences to anyone who applied, rather than cherry-picking a select handful that Icasa decided were worthy”.

He also noted: “In reality, the case goes back to September 3 2004, when Minister of Communications Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri declared, as part of a determination on amendments to the Telecommunications Act, that VANS would be allowed to self-provide their own network facilities from February 1 2005.

“Icasa formally endorsed this amendment. Yet, with barely hours to go before the due date, the minister stated that this self-provisioning applied only to the mobile cellular operators and that ‘value-added network operators may obtain facilities from any licensed operator as specified in the determinations’.”

He concluded: “In effect, that had shut the door to open competition, with VANS forced to buy all network services from the same companies that were their biggest competitors.”

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