The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has decided to extend temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to mobile network operators at the start of South Africa’s national state of disaster due to COVID-19.
ICASA has extended the temporary spectrum licenses for a further three months — from 1 June 2021 to 31 August 2021.
This is good news for cellular subscribers in South Africa, as mobile network operators have explained that having access to additional spectrum helps them reduce prices.
With the long-awaited auction for highly sought-after radio frequency spectrum delayed as a result of disputes from Telkom and MTN, the temporary spectrum is a welcome stopgap for South Africa’s cellular carriers.
ICASA’s decision to extend the temporary spectrum assignments comes after it announced last month that it was disinclined to grant a further extension beyond 31 May.
“The Authority does not intend to further extend the expiry date of the temporary radio frequency spectrum licences beyond 31 May 2021 due to the issues raised in the pending litigation and the interim interdict which has been granted against it,” ICASA stated at the time.
The regulator invited public comment on its review of its National Disaster Regulations, and after considering all the written responses it received, ICASA changed its stance on the issue.
ICASA said it hopes that South Africa’s mobile network operators will use the next three months to find a resolution to impasse caused by the Telkom and MTN’s litigation against the spectrum auction process.
“The three-month extension affords an opportunity for all stakeholders to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse,” said ICASA chair Keabetswe Modimoeng.
Modimoeng warned that eventually ICASA will not be able to extend the temporary spectrum assignments when a more permanent route for spectrum licensing is struck in litigation.
“We need to come to the negotiations with well-meaning intentions, as soon as possible to resolve this ongoing legal stand-off,” said Modimoeng.
Modimoeng said that the industry can’t perpetuate a temporary pandemic-specific spectrum arrangement to a point where it amounts to a backdoor spectrum licensing regime.
“High-demand Spectrum ought to be licensed in a transparent and competitive manner; hence any other way is unjustifiable in the long run,” Modimoeng said.