Altech strikes Ivy out for third time

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Cape Town, 06 Nov 2008

The Pretoria High Court today ruled against communication minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri's urgent interdict against the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), to prevent it from issuing telecommunications licences to value-added network services (VANS).

The interdict was filed on behalf of the minister on 17 October, as part of a strategy to prevent Altech, and the rest of the VANS, from gaining individual-electronic communications network service (I-ECNS) licences. The licences would have given VANS the same rights to build telecommunications infrastructure as those held by incumbent operators, such as Telkom, Neotel, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.

Lawyers say the case was heard in chambers, meaning that only the legal representatives and the judge were present.

Also granted by the court was that Altech has a right to receive its I-ECNS licence from ICASA immediately. The court ruled that the Department of Communications (DOC) has to bear the legal costs of the application for all parties.

This is now the third time in a row that the courts have struck down Matsepe-Casaburri's arguments that VANS are not allowed to self-provide, namely build their own infrastructure. The first time was when the Johannesburg High Court ruled that Altech was allowed its licence. That court then also refused the minister leave to appeal its original decision by saying it could not see any other judge ruling differently.

However, today's ruling is not the end of Matsepe-Casaburri's legal options.

“This is all turning out to be very embarrassing for the minister,” says e-lawyer Dominic Cull, who represents the Wireless Application Providers Association (WAPA).

WAPA has had a similar case against Matsepe-Casaburri, but is not directly involved in the Altech case.

“The minister has until 21 November to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal on the decision by the Johannesburg High Court. However, they had better not wait even that long as I am sure Altech is already knocking on ICASA's door for its licence,” Cull says.

A highly-placed industry source has told ITWeb that Matsepe-Casaburri is now trying to meet with justice minister Enver Surty.

“It seems as though she is really annoyed,” the source says.

No official comment has been received from Altech or the DOC; however, statements are expected later today.

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