Adding to the woes of electricity-starved South Africans is news that many of us may face information black-outs because some wireless Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are providing illegal Internet access to consumers.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) is cracking down on those wireless ISPs who do not hold an Electronic Communications Service license and are using the public 2.4 GHz frequency band for commercial purposes.
This frequency band cannot be used to build and sell services on because it is limited for use in Local Area Networks (LANS) such as office parks or homes.
“Consumers who didn’t carefully choose wireless ISPs with solid regulatory track records now face disconnection as ICASA cracks down on illegal operators. Many offending wireless ISPs are not even aware that they need a Value Added Network Service (VANS) license to provide commercial Internet access services,” said Antony McKechnie iBurst’s Head of Product Development.
Adding to consumers’ connectivity concerns is the mistaken belief among some ISPs that VANS license holders can build their own infrastructure. According to Mr McKechnie: “An Electronic Communications Service license (previously a VANS license) does not extend to the self-provision of infrastructure such as fixed-lines and networks. This is where many wireless ISPs are found to be held in breach of the law. Only certain operators such as iBurst are licensed to build their own public communications networks."
While wireless technologies have been revolutionary in bridging the digital divide in underserved communities and particularly rural areas of South Africa, illegal operators have hampered the roll-out process of legitimate and regulated services. ICASA has taken a hard line with non-compliant wireless ISPs by either shutting down their operations or confiscating equipment.
The telecommunications frequency spectrum is a limited resource and its use must be carefully managed and controlled. Illegal operators put the frequency spectrum at risk of becoming cluttered and this could result in a flood of interruptions on other frequency bands.
“License conditions stipulate certain minimum service standards and make operators liable for contraventions. Consumers are therefore at risk of paying unlicensed operators for a sub-standard service,” concluded Mr McKechnie.
Consumers unsure of whether or not a certain ISP is operating legally should call ICASA’s Licensing, Enforcement and Numbering (LENA) Department on 011 321 8200.