Minister rubbishes DA claim that ANC is blocking Musk’s Starlink

Mondli Gungubele

Communications minister Mondli Gungubele has come out guns blazing against Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard over her claim, last week, that the ANC-led government is blocking Elon Musk’s satellite broadband venture in South Africa.

In a statement on Monday, Gungubele said he “noted reports by various news outlets attributed to some opposition party that government is blocking the operation of a satellite internet service company, Starlink, owned by the global business magnate and investor Elon Musk”.

He said South Africa requires entities like Starlink, which want to operate an electronic communications network in South Africa, to apply for an individual network service (ECNS) licence, an individual service (ECS) licence and a radio frequency spectrum licence.

The custodian of the licensing process is communications regulator Icasa, and the minister said the authority has advised him that no such applications have been received from Starlink to date.

“It is therefore not true that government is blocking the operation of Starlink in South Africa. 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,” he said.

The “prevailing legislation” referred to is the Electronic Communication Act, which requires individual ECS and ECNS licence applicants or licensees to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups, which include black people, women, youth and people with disabilities. This may be the requirement that SpaceX – and Musk – baulked at.

Rigid stance

Last Wednesday, Kohler Barnard, who serves as the DA’s spokeswoman on communications, blamed the ANC’s rigid stance on black economic empowerment – and specifically Icasa’s rules – for effectively blocking SpaceX from launching Starlink here.

“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,” she said, implying incorrectly that the shares have to be sold to the government.

Read: Starlink in South Africa: ball’s not in our court, Icasa says

The DA MP, who serves as shadow minister of communications, said South Africa “looks set to become one of the only African countries not to roll out Starlink” because of BEE rules. She said Gungubele must amend the regulations “to remove the archaic, irrational and ridiculous hurdles to progress”.

Read: DA accuses ANC of blocking Starlink in South Africa

Judging from the minister’s response to Kohler Barnard, that seems unlikely to happen.  – © 2023 NewsCentral Media

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