Telkom drops interdict against network capacity auction — for now

Partially state-owned network operator Telkom says it reached an agreement with respondents to its court application against an auction of radio frequency spectrum set for 8 March.

This comes after Telkom asked the respondents in the case to agree to an expedited hearing. In exchange, Telkom said it would drop its interdict application.

MTN, Icasa, Vodacom, Rain, and communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni filed papers opposing the application.

“In line with the agreement between the parties, while we await the decision of the court on the proposed timelines for the hearing of the review, Telkom will be removing the hearing of Part A [the interdict] of its application from the urgent roll,” said Telkom regulatory and government relations head Dr Siyabonga Mahlangu.

Telkom reserved its rights to reinstate the matter on short notice.

Mahlangu said all the respondents agreed to expedite the hearing for Part B of Telkom’s two-part application.

Part B asks for the merits of Telkom’s case to be heard. If Telkom wins, it will result in the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) being forced back to the drawing board.

Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions founder Dominic Cull has said that would delay the release of additional spectrum by at least 15–18 months.

Telkom said there are significant problems with Icasa’s spectrum licensing process:

  1. Analogue TV spectrum — known as the “digital dividend” — is unavailable as E-tv refuses to relinquish it by March 2022.
  2. E-tv owner eMedia has a court case against Ntshavheni and Icasa about this that will only be heard in mid-March — after the spectrum auction is set to conclude.
  3. Doesn’t consider the competitive landscape.
  4. Uses uniform caps on the amount spectrum each operator can hold — another major disadvantage for Telkom.
  5. Delay of the national wireless open-access network (WOAN).

In the second part of its application, Telkom asked the court to issue an order forcing Icasa to essentially restart the spectrum process, as follows:

  • Launch public consultations on the various options available to license spectrum, including the effect of each option on competition in the market.
  • Public consultations on the minimum requirements for the WOAN to be effective, including the spectrum it will need.
  • Publish a draft invitation to apply and invite interested parties to submit feedback before finalising it.
  • Implement remedies that compensate for the event that E-tv might occupy some of the digital dividend spectrum at the time of licensing.

Part A of Telkom’s two-part application was set to be heard on Tuesday, 25 January 2022.

Telkom has proposed that Part B of the application be heard on 1–4 March 2022, should the court be able to accommodate the request.

“Telkom is pleased with the cooperation it has received from the parties on this revised timeframe and expects the regulator to proceed mindful that the outcome of hearing of Part B of Telkom’s application will have material impact on the auction process,” Mahlangu stated.

Now read: Goliath vs Goliath vs Goliath — South Africa’s spectrum showdown

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Telkom drops interdict against network capacity auction — for now