The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has extended the allocation of temporary radio frequency spectrum assigned to mobile operators to deal with increased network traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Council of ICASA has resolved to review the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations and extend the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to licensees for another two months,” ICASA stated.
This means that the emergency spectrum, which was due to expire at the end of March 2021, will now be available to mobile operators until 31 May 2021.
“The temporary release of high demand spectrum (HDS) to licensees aimed to mitigate the impact of the national state of disaster following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, mainly by easing network congestion, maintaining good quality of broadband services, and enabling licensees to lower the cost of access to consumers,” ICASA said.
“The regulations made provision for, amongst others; the zero-rating of some critical health and education websites in order to promote universal access and service to health information and services, and to support the development of virtual classrooms for learners,” ICASA added.
The extension of the temporary spectrum allocation follows Telkom and Etv securing an interdict against ICASA’s auction for high-demand spectrum, which was originally set to take place by the end of March 2021.
According to the ruling of the high court, ICASA is interdicted from processing or deciding on any spectrum applications as part of its invitation to apply (ITA) issued earlier this year.
This means that there will be a significant delay in the long-term licensing of spectrum to mobile network operators, which is likely why the extension has been enacted.
Comprehensive review to follow
ICASA said that following the expiry of the temporary spectrum extension on 31 May 2021, the Authority will embark on a comprehensive review of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations.
This will include consideration of the radio frequency spectrum extensions, as well as the relaxation of compliance requirements in respect of local content for broadcasters, and type-approval obligations.
According to ICASA Chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng the Authority needed to safeguard the interest of consumers within the temporary spectrum licensing regime.
“As mobile network operators continue to provide services while deriving commercial value from this high value spectrum resource, we need to delicately apply ourselves on these extensions in a manner that is justifiable and primarily beneficial to the South African public.”
“We will be doing so over the next two months while expediting our appeal processes on the formal licensing court interdict. Industry needs to dig deep and assist the process further by modelling best pro-consumer offerings on the back of these temporary licences,” said Modimoeng.