The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has issued a stern warning regarding the use or provision of access to SpaceX’s Starlink services in the country, citing legal ramifications.

Acting chairperson Yolisa Kedama signed the notice, emphasizing Icasa’s responsibility to safeguard licensees and consumers by ensuring fair participation and competition in the market. The warning underscores the illegality of providing broadcasting and electronic communication services without the necessary licenses, as stipulated by the Electronic Communications Act.

According to the Icasa Act of 2000, individuals or entities found providing services without proper licensing could face substantial fines, amounting to up to R5,000,000 or 10% of annual turnover, whichever is greater. This penalty accrues for each day or part thereof during which the offense persists.

The regulator also highlighted the importance of adhering to equipment standards, urging the public to avoid using or purchasing electronic communication equipment, such as Starlink’s, without the requisite licenses or type approval. Icasa stressed the potential risks, including harmful interference to the radio frequency spectrum and the safety hazards associated with non-type-approved equipment.

Icasa acknowledged that only specific Starlink equipment, including its Ka-band and V3 Earth Station Gateways, and its router, has received type approval in South Africa. Notably, its dish antennas appear to lack type approval.

For companies like Starlink to legally offer services in South Africa, Icasa outlined the necessity of Individual Electronic Communications Service (I-ECS) and Individual Electronic Network Service (I-ECNS) licenses. However, there is currently no open invitation to apply for these licenses, with Icasa requiring specific invitations to be issued.

Despite attempts to obtain clarification from Icasa, the regulator has not explained why applications for these licenses have not been opened for over a decade. The situation has led to challenges for companies, including government-owned Broadband Infraco, which recently published a tender to buy licenses from other holders due to the unavailability of new licenses.

The Internet Service Providers Association of South Africa (Ispa) has voiced concerns over the licensing process, highlighting the high costs and extended timelines for license transfers. Licenses, which can reportedly sell for upwards of R1 million, are seen as a barrier for small businesses and hindering transformation in the sector.

While Icasa acknowledges the importance of technological advancements, it emphasizes the need for adherence to the country’s regulatory framework outlined in the Electronic Communications Act. The industry awaits further developments as it navigates the complex regulatory landscape.