South African authorities ban importation of Starlink kits as users face possible blackout

Michael Akuchie
Although Starlink is yet to secure an operational license, IT LEC found a workaround for its customers

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa(ICASA), the country’s telecoms regulator, has ordered IT Lec to cease the importation of Starlink kits. It further demanded that the Northern Cape-based internet service provider (ISP) discontinue any active Starlink internet services to users in the country.

Although SpaceX, makers of Starlink, are yet to secure an operational license, IT LEC found a workaround for its customers. But now, the ISP has been warned to abandon this workaround in a strongly-worded notice by the ICASA.

IT LEC (Pty) Ltd should, within three days of receipt of this letter, stop and refrain [from] acquiring, distributing, and facilitating the sale of any Starlink products in South Africa, that will in any form provide satellite access to the Starlink services,” ICASA’s notice read in part.

Three weeks ago, Technext reported that South Africa was classified as a low-priority region for a potential Starlink launch. This is due to the high level of regulatory hurdles. However, this has not stopped some South Africans from experiencing the product’s revolutionary internet speed. 

IT Lec has been importing kits that facilitate Starlink’s roaming service into South Africa. Provided the user gets the duo of an antenna and a router, they can enjoy fast broadband internet. The kits reportedly cost R15,000. A monthly charge of R1,799 for the roaming service applies too. 

Despite the ISP’s well-intentioned actions, the country’s regulator frowned heavily on the activity. It’s worth mentioning that ICASA had participated in discussions with IT Lec, but no good seemed to have come from that endeavour. 

Interestingly, South Africa looked set to welcome the satellite internet service last year. However,  its availability date was moved from 2022 to 2023 before SpaceX replaced it with the “Unknown” status. 

Starlink in Kenya

The delay is attributed to a requirement of the Electronic Communications Act. It states that at least 30% of a company seeking a telecoms license must be owned by members of historically-disadvantaged groups. Members include women, blacks, and the disabled. Given that SpaceX’s genealogy comprises various investment companies, it is a tricky affair. 

Read also: “Overpriced” Starlink outperforms other Nigerian ISPs with a median download speed of 110.8 Mbps in Q1 2023

Dawiw de Wet, the CEO of Q-KON Africa, believed that IT Lec has not committed any crime by importing Starlink kits. He further stated that Starlink manages a global constellation that would eventually reach every marker unless a certain territory doesn’t comply with its business companies. At that point, its services can be restricted. 

He then said, “The service will be available over the South African region unless prohibited by the Starlink operational directives.” 

Regarding the potential stoppage of the roaming services in South Africa, IT Lec found a way to keep the satellite internet on despite the order not to. It is worth mentioning that the ISP’s major customers live in rural areas, locations famous for having few broadband options. 

Given that the Northern Cape region is underpopulated, most of the telecom operators don’t see it as a place to channel sizable investments. It was no surprise that upon the entry of the roaming services, many customers had good things to say. 

Instead of discontinuing the service, the ISP redirected its buyers to a Mozambique-based company. It hopes to leverage Mozambique, a country where Starlink has been licensed, as a base for offering kits to other African countries lacking the product.  

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