The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has informed the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA) that VANS (Value-Added Network Services) licence applications submitted to the Regulator from 19 July 2006 may not be processed for up to 24 months.
“The delay means that South African VANS providers planning to invest in infrastructure to help make the 2010 Soccer World Cup a success, will only be able to start implementing their plans 18 months before the event kicks off,” said Ant Brooks, general manager of ISPA.
Already suffering from an unfortunate lack of resources and funding, the Regulator of an industry key to South Africa’s Soccer World Cup plans has attributed this specific delay to delays in finalising some regulatory provisions relating to the new Electronic Communications Act (EC Act), and to an unwillingness to create confusion between licences issued under the old Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the EC Act.
While the move to the new Electronic Communications Act has been lauded by industry, there is no tie-over regulatory process that can keep the cogs of commerce turning in the meantime. “VANS service providers with pending VANS licence applications will be unable to enter into interconnection and facilities leasing agreements with Telkom until they are issued licences,” said Mr Brooks.
Telkom ultimately provides a right of passage to legitimate interconnection and facilities leasing services. Without an agreement with Telkom, service providers cannot offer the benefits of premium and reliable electronic communication services to their customers.
They will also not be able to apply for numbers from ICASA, which will further prevent them from offering VoIP services.
The EC Act seems clear as to the preservation of existing regulations, such as VANS regulations, passed under the former Telecommunications Act. Section 95 (2) of the EC Act holds that ICASA may repeal or amend specific regulations and that these remain in force until they are amended or repealed in terms of the new Act.
“To the best of our knowledge, the regulations relevant to VANS licence applications and the terms and conditions applicable to VANS licences have not been repealed or amended and accordingly, remain in full force and effect,” said Mr Brooks.
ICASA’s current hold on processing VANS licences arises from the confusion caused by section 92 (7) of the EC Act. The clause states that licence application submissions that coincide with the EC Act coming into effect must be considered in accordance with the new Act. ISPA has called on ICASA to resolve this conflict in favour of the preservation of existing regulations set out in section 95 (2) of the EC Act.
Mr Brooks said, “ISPA is concerned that new licence categories and procedures determined by the EC Act may take up to 18 to 24 months to be finalised. If the current hold on processing licence applications continues, no new licences will be issued to potential industry players for this entire period.”
ISPA has noted the same difficulties with regard to applications for Private Telecommunication Network (PTN) licences. ISPA has appealed to ICASA to consider that industry received no prior warning that the EC Act would come into effect on 19 July 2006 and that it would subsequently put an indefinite hold on the issuing of VANS licences.