Icasa resists pressure from MPs on Infraco

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa resisted pressure from MPs on Tuesday to issue state-owned company Broadband Infraco with both service and network licences without delay, protesting that it could not throw due process to the wind.

“If the committee wants we can do it tomorrow, but the process will be held up in court for the next five years,” Icasa councillor Fungai Sibanda told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises.

“There is no shortcut to regulation.”

He said he believed a decision on a network licence would be made by the end of the month, but warned that if other operators believed the process was flawed, they would not hesitate to take Icasa’s decision on review.

Sibanda came under fire for the regulator’s apparent reluctance to grant Infraco a service licence.

He found support from Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, who said it was unclear why the operator needed a service licence in addition to a network licence, as its stated aim was to provide infrastructure to other providers at wholesale prices.

“Our understanding is that Infraco would not play a role in [the] retail sector.”

Infraco had argued that it needed the second licence in case it needed to step into a void left by other operators.

Nyanda, however, said this amounted to “bandwidth hoarding” and would not be allowed.

Chairperson of the committee, Vytjie Mentor, said granting the licence was “critical for Infraco to provide the service it is meant to”, while committee members suggested Icasa was bowing to pressure from big communications companies that feared competition from Infraco.

Infraco was tasked in 2007 with boosting relatively low internet connectivity in South Africa, which has relied on a single international cable controlled for years by Telkom.

The Internet Service Providers Association has said it objected to issuing Infraco the two licences on the grounds that it would unfairly favour a state entity in the sector, and arguing that Infraco was only entitled to a network licence.

Icasa, Infraco and the government have asked for legal opinion to try to overcome differing interpretations of the Electronic Communications Amendment Act, under which the licences are being sought. - Sapa

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