ICASA postpones 4G spectrum auction “until further notice”

ICASA has delayed its plans to auction high-demand spectrum.

“This is just a shift of the timeframe for the award process in respect of the ITA,” ICASA told MyBroadband.

“This is mainly due to the ongoing court process on the same matter. Depending on the outcomes… ICASA will communicate the process moving forward.”

ICASA vs Cwele

Published in the Government Gazette on 9 February 2017, ICASA’s notice on the subject was succinct.

“The Authority hereby defers, until further notice, the Timeframe for the award process published in Government Gazette number 40301 (Notice number 618 of 2016).”

ICASA refers to a gazette published on 23 September 2016 in which it amended its original invitation to apply (ITA) for the spectrum, extending the deadlines and relaxing the BEE requirements.

The ITA aimed to assign chunks of spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, and 2,600MHz bands, which it had grouped into four lots.

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, was unhappy with the ITA and sought an interdict to block ICASA from proceeding.

Cwele received the interdict and the court ruled that ICASA cannot migrate the current non-mobile users in the frequency bands in question without the minister’s participation.

Why the Minister opposed the ITA

During this fight, cabinet approved the National Integrated Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy White Paper, which laid out controversial plans for South Africa.

The policy suggested that South Africa would build a single wireless open access network and the possibility of taking back spectrum assigned to mobile operators for use in the open access network.

Cwele has since said it is not their intention “to expropriate private property and the investment which has been made by private companies”.

“We absolutely have got no such intention and this matter was debated at length at cabinet, and we all recognise that we cannot expropriate by default,” said Cwele.

“All we want to do is that: let’s share our networks. Where we can share, let’s share.”

Cwele said he is open to discussion and clarification, “because the aim is not to squeeze out our companies out of the spectrum”.

“Spectrum is the oxygen of the mobile operators. But we must do it in a manner that will not discriminate others who want to participate in this industry.”

Now read: Cell C wants Vodacom and MTN to give back spectrum

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ICASA postpones 4G spectrum auction “until further notice”