The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has been accused of heavy-handed tactics. This follows its inspectors "confiscating" equipment belonging to Dabba, at Orange Farm, an informal settlement 45km from Johannesburg.
Dabba is an emerging telecommunications operator that has the support of the Shuttleworth Foundation and US equipment maker Cisco.
It is rolling out a village telecoms model that will encourage low-cost connectivity, while building entrepreneurs in some of the country`s poorest areas.
The equipment confiscated by ICASA inspectors was Linksys Open Source AP bridge/routers, and Ubiquity Nanostation units, operating on the unlicensed WiFi 2.4GHz spectrum.
Rael Lissoos, Dabba MD, says he has received no official documentation from ICASA as to why the equipment was confiscated. He explains that it now means an Aids orphanage, a skills development centre and at least one small Internet caf'e no longer have the free connectivity they need to operate.
"Last Friday, 13 February, I was phoned by some ICASA inspector who said they were going to Orange Farm to confiscate the equipment. They implied that our equipment was interfering with some of Telkom`s equipment. However, we have not been able to determine exactly what the problem is," he says.
Lissoos says that, when originally installing the equipment there, he was told by ICASA that Telkom used mainly channel six on the 2.4GHz frequency and so his equipment was set up to use channels one and 11 so as not to cause interference.
He says the equipment, which is distributed by Miro Distribution, is of the type approved by ICASA, but that he was not certain if the equipment displayed the required stickers.
ICASA did not respond directly to questions sent by ITWeb, but said it needed to still be briefed by its inspectors who were "out doing further and other investigations".
Steve Song, telecoms fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, has slated ICASA`s actions, saying they were heavy-handed and totally unnecessary.
"Disconnecting an Aids orphanage and a skills development centre - what are they going to do next? Take the children`s lunch money?" he asks.
Song says even if the equipment was not the type approved by ICASA, it was still standard WiFi equipment that has little impact on other equipment that may be located around it.
"The worst part about it is that they [ICASA inspectors] left no documentation behind, and then told the orphanage and the school that they were doing something illegal," Lissoos says.