ICASA declares WiFi hotspots legal

By Rodney Weidemann, ITWeb Contributor
Johannesburg, 17 Oct 2003

It appears as though wireless Internet access (WiFi) is here to stay, as the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has reached the conclusion that it is legal as long as the service is provided within the borders of a customer`s premises.

The regulator`s findings and conclusions go against Telkom`s claim that the service should form part of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), which only it is allowed to provide, paving the way for many more hotspots to be rolled out.

"We are really glad ICASA has made its view clear on this matter and that it has decided a wireless local area network (WLAN) is no different to a normal LAN, which is considered to be customer premises equipment, and therefore not part of the PSTN," says Ant Brooks, co-chairman of the regulatory sub-committee of the Internet Service Providers` Association.

"This stance certainly helps to clear up a lot of the uncertainty in the market and basically opens the door for many more hotspot roll-outs to take place."

According to ICASA, LANs are considered to be providing a service on a customer premises, and services of this nature have historically not been licensed by the regulator.

Further to this finding, the authority will amend the provision in the Radio Regulation (Notice 1790 of 1995) in such a way as to delete the entire phrase "and between the computer systems of the same user".

"Effectively this will clear up confusion that has existed in terms of locations such as Internet caf'es, which provide a service on a single premises, but to a number of different users," says Brooks.

"It is wonderful to see that the regulator is prepared to clear up the statements within the legislation that are open to interpretation, in order to make it much more unambiguous."

M-Web Home`s GM, Russell Dreisenstock, says the company is happy the finding has had the effect of clearing up any doubt that hotspots are perfectly legal, and will allow the SA consumer access to technology that has been denied them for too long.

"The South African consumer can look forward to many new product and service innovations in this field, as competition is fostered," says Dreisenstock.

"As a result of this regulatory victory, our organisation intends consolidating its leadership position in the WiFi environment, by rolling out further hotspots."

According to Brooks, he will be surprised if Telkom tries to challenge what is a clear decision by ICASA, as he is of the opinion that where new telecoms services come in to play, the monopoly will also benefit, as their services will also have to be purchased.

"ISPA is very pleased that ICASA has reached this conclusion. It is heartening, as the regulator spent a long time chewing over the issues and has also shown a willingness to alter legislation that could otherwise have been seen as ambiguous," says Brooks.

"Of course, it remains to be seen whether there is a practical business case for WiFi, but that is not something that can be legislated, that is something that the market and the demand will decide."

Telkom`s media relations manager could not be reached for comment.

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