ICASA to charge operators for emergency COVID-19 spectrum

ICASA has announced that it will extend the validity period of temporarily assigned emergency spectrum, but operators will be charged if they wish to continue using it.

“In light of the fact that the auctioning of the high demand spectrum will occur in March 2021, the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA/Authority) has approved the amendment of the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations in order to extend the validity period of the temporary assignment of radio frequency spectrum (“temporary spectrum”) to no later than 31 March 2021,” ICASA said in a statement on Friday.

The initial date within which the temporary spectrum was supposed to be returned to ICASA was 30 November 2020.

“The Council has also resolved that all licensees who have been assigned temporary spectrum and wish to continue using it for extended period (i.e. until 31 March 2021) will be required to pay the prescribed radio frequency spectrum licence fees,” the authority added.

This spectrum was initially allocated to local mobile operators free of charge to meet the high demand for data during the COVID-19 lockdown. The authority did not require any payment for the use of this spectrum.

“We are aware that licensees generated and reported revenue growth during this period. We have therefore resolved that, in addition to fulfilment of the obligations imposed with the release of temporary spectrum, the extended use of spectrum must be at a fee as provided for in the amended regulations”, said ICASA Chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

ICASA also advised that the continued validity of spectrum sharing arrangements is to be subject to specific renewal or approval processes by the authority.

Spectrum auction

“The Authority hereby reminds prospective applicants for the radio frequency spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), that the closing date remains 28 December 2020 at 16h00,” ICASA said.

“Furthermore, the prospective applicants are advised to request invoices for the prescribed application fee on the email address provided in the Invitation To Apply (ITA).”

ICASA confirmed that the reasons document for the ITA for high-demand spectrum and the WOAN would be released no later than 4 December 2020.

It will also be conducting virtual workshops from 9-11 December around the ITA and WOAN, which will provide a platform for prospective applications to unpack the requirements of the WOAN ITA and ensure a successful licensing process.

“We allowed for clarity seeking questions on the IMT ITA and provided responses in this regard. We believe that the workshops and the responses will go a long way in providing clarity for all interested stakeholders and ensure that the process is fully understood and give effect to procedural fairness and administrative justice,” said Dr Modimoeng.

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ICASA to charge operators for emergency COVID-19 spectrum