ICASA will fight Telkom’s court case against spectrum auction

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has said that it will oppose Telkom’s court application against ICASA’s forthcoming radio frequency spectrum auction.

ICASA issued an invitation to apply on 2 October 2020 for highly sought-after spectrum for cellular networks, especially 4G and 5G mobile data services.

Telkom filed a court application to challenge the process on 22 December. It named ICASA, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Rain, Liquid Telecom, the Minister of Communications, the Competition Commission, the SABC, Sentech, and two industry representative bodies as respondents.

Telkom warned that if ICASA went ahead with its spectrum licensing process as is, it would mess up the telecommunications industry in South Africa for 20 years as that is how long spectrum licences are valid for.

Telkom highlighted two specific areas of its legal challenge against ICASA. They are:

  1. Several important spectrum bands in the 700MHz and 800MHz regions are not commercially viable as they are still in use by broadcasters. Telkom wants assurances from the Court that government will be forced to migrate broadcasters out of those bands, as it will have no incentive to do so once it has the money from the auction in its pocket.
  2. ICASA went ahead with its Invitation to Apply without first finishing its Mobile Broadband Service Market Inquiry. Telkom contends that this is unlawful and irrational. The root of this argument is that Telkom does not believe ICASA is doing enough to break the dominance of Vodacom and MTN in the market.

ICASA responds

In response to Telkom’s legal challenge, ICASA said that it is reviewing the court application and has engaged its legal representatives to oppose it.

“Furthermore, the Authority wishes to inform all prospective applicants that the date for submissions of applications in respect of the ITA for the IMT spectrum remains unchanged and is still 28 December 2020,” ICASA stated.

“This court application does not stop the Authority from proceeding with the receipt of applications in this regard.”

ICASA then provided health and safety protocols that must be adhered to when visiting its offices as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The regulator did not answer MyBroadband’s question regarding the potential delay that Telkom’s legal challenge might cause in licensing spectrum that mobile network operators have said is crucial to reduce prices, allow better rural coverage, and improve network performance.

Delays

Telkom said that it does not believe its case against ICASA will cause any lengthy delays.

According to Telkom’s head of regulatory affairs and government relations, Siyabonga Mahlangu, ICASA could still conclude the spectrum licensing process before the end of 2021.

“We could have the discussions in the first quarter and then spend Q2 and Q3 finalising the process,” Mahlangu said.

He said that everyone in the industry has been working on this, so it’s a matter that should be possible to resolve fairly quickly.

Mahlangu also argued that Telkom’s legal challenge is not an undue delay to the process.

“Government has delayed fifteen years for a 20-year commitment,” contended Mahlangu.

“Rushing it now and getting it wrong is not in anyone’s interest.”

Now read: ICASA reveals prices and dates for 4G and 5G spectrum auction

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ICASA will fight Telkom’s court case against spectrum auction