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Court orders restoration of Broadband Infraco’s fibre-optic cables

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 15 Aug 2023
Eskom has been ordered to restore Broadband Infraco’s fibre-optic cables.
Eskom has been ordered to restore Broadband Infraco’s fibre-optic cables.

State-owned wholesale infrastructure provider Broadband Infraco (BBI) has drawn first blood in the legal matter over disconnection of its fibre-optic cables by power utility Eskom.

The Gauteng High Court last week granted BBI the urgent interim interdict it sought, ordering Eskom to restore services previously provided to the entity, despite non-payment.

BBI offers long-distance national and international backhaul connectivity. Its wholesale broadband connectivity products are supplied to private and public customers across South Africa, as well as neighbouring Southern African nations.

Eskom and BBI are in a symbiotic relationship, in as far as the former provides certain services to the fibre-optic cables that make up the entity’s 15 000km telecoms network. Only Eskom can provide the services to enable BBI to comply with its statutory obligations, according to the court document.

Further, the power utility is the owner of some of the fibre-optic cables making up the routes on the network. BBI requires Eskom to provide the lease services for the cables it owns, and requires Eskom to maintain and service those cables.

Eskom previously provided these services in terms of written lease agreements, with the last set to expire on 31 August 2024, but stopped when BBI fell into arrears, unable to settle its debts.

Additionally, Eskom ceased to provide maintenance services after that agreement expired, resolving not do so until BBI settles the outstanding disputes.

Resultantly, Eskom disconnected the fibre-optic cables it leased to BBI, further terminating the lease agreement.

However, BBI approached the courts to seek relief, filing an urgent interim interdict for the power utility to reconnect the optic fibres. BBI argued that Eskom is in violation of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act.

The high court ordered Eskom to, within 10 days: “Reconnect all the disconnected optic fibres it leased to BBI in terms of the lease agreement concluded between the parties on or about 16 October 2019, and provide the lease services in accordance with the terms of the lease agreement.”

Eskom was directed to: “Resume providing the services contemplated by the maintenance agreement concluded between the parties on 10 May 2018. Provide the maintenance services in accordance with the terms of the maintenance agreement as and when required.”

The power utility was also ordered to pay the costs of the application.

In response to ITWeb’s request for comment, Eskom said it is not at liberty to respond to any media queries at this point as the matter is still sub judice.

Meanwhile, financially-strained BBI is in the process of an organisational restructure that will see it merge with state entity Sentech, resulting in the establishment of the State Digital Infrastructure Company.

The merger is envisioned to consolidate the fibre assets of other state-owned entities, some of which are currently owned by Transnet, Prasa and the National Roads Agency.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies previously revealed that a process that would potentially see Sentech acquire BBI was on the table. This, as government aims to fast-track the process of having one state digital infrastructure organisation.