Starlink didn't apply for licence in South Africa, Comms Minister says

The South African government has disclosed that Starlink has not applied for operating licence in the country. Opposition party says its due to unfavourable regulations.

Starlink didn't apply for licence in South Africa, Comms Minister says
Elon Musk, the owner of Starlink

The South African government has disclosed that Elon Musk's Starlink has not applied for operating licence in the country. This is coming after the Democratic Alliance (DA) alleged that the government is blocking Starlink from launching operations in the country.

"The authority has advised the minister that such applications have not been received from Starlink, to date. It is, therefore, not true that government is blocking the operation of Starlink in South Africa," SA Communications minister, Mondli Gungubele said (as cited by ITWeb). "Any interested party wishing to apply for a licence, including Starlink, may through appropriate channels, approach the authority with its application and comply with the prevailing legislation in the country."

However, Gungubele did not address Democratic Alliance's main argument; the country's unfavourable licence application requirements.

"In order for Starlink to operate in South Africa, they require…Individual [ individual Electronic Communications Network Services/individual Electronic Communications Service] I-ECS/I-ECNS applicants or licensees to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups," Dianne Kohler Barnard MP, DA Shadow Minister of Communications, argues. "It is simply laughable that an international multibillion dollar company must hand over at least 30% of its equity to the ANC government to operate within South Africa."

The country's Electronic Communication Act requires I-ECS and I-ECNS licence applicants to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups; this includes black people, women, youth and people with disabilities (all of which must be South African citizens).

This requirement is possibly what is affecting Starlink's willingness to apply for the licenses. Ms Barnard says the DA will ensure that regulation is amended. "[We] will ask both Elon Musk’s office and Space X to make an application," she added.

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"Applications for I-ECNS licences can only be lodged with the Authority after a policy directive has been issued by the minister of communications. Thereafter, the Authority may issue the invitation to apply (ITA) wherein all interested persons may apply. The initial licence application fee is included in the ITA," according to Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

Meanwhile, with I-ECS licenses, there is no requirement for a policy directive by the Minister of Communications. Also, there is no specified fee for application of both licenses, the fee is dependent on the ITA specifications.

So far, more than 500 companies have been issued the aforementioned licenses.

Earlier this year, Nigeria became the first African country with Starlink operations. The satelite internet service was also launched in Rwanda in February. Starlink says it will launch in 19 other countries across the continent this year. While, Egypt and 15 other countries will receive the service next year.

"South Africa looks set to become one of the only African countries to not roll out Starlink," Ms Barnard said. "Even our neighbours, Mozambique and Botswana are ahead of us in the rollout."

The DA believes that the availability of Starlink in the country will boost e-learning in rural communities and the nation's economy.

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