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ICASA Sets New Deadline for Controversial Spectrum Auction

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
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Last month, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the country’s communications regulator, announced that it would not be publishing invitations to apply (ITA) to participate in the highly anticipated auction of high-demand spectrum in South Africa, effectively postponing the auction.

ICASA said that the move was made to avoid lengthy court battles against several litigators that had issues with how ICASA was handling the auction. The regulator likewise withdrew an ITA for the licensing of the planned wholesale open-access network (WOAN).

Now, following more than a decade of delays and legal issues, ICASA has announced a new timetable for the auction of its high-demand spectrum in the country.

According to Media24, SA’s high data prices (some of the highest prices on the continent) and slow rollout of new technologies have both been blamed on ICASA continuous delaying of the auction.

Now, ICASA expects that the spectrum will be allocated to local companies by the end of March 2022, a full year after the auction was originally planned to be completed. Its latest delay was due to legal action taken by Telkom, eMedia and MTN.

“All things being equal, we envisage to licence the IMT spectrum no later than end of March 2022,” Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA chairperson, said in a statement on Friday.

“We would like to urge all interested stakeholders to participate fully in this consultative engagement and to engage openly and robustly to ensure that no further impediments are placed in the way of the finalisation of this critical economic intervention,” Modimoeng added.

The auction’s new time frame now also includes a closing date to receive new and revised applications – 31 January 2022 – the announcement of qualified bidders – 21 February 2022 – and the start of the auction process proper – 1 March 2022.

ICASA in Court

Last month, both MTN and Telkom had appealed to courts about the planned structure of ICASA’s spectrum auction.

MTN argued that ICASA’s need to prioritise smaller operators meant that, as a much larger tier-1 operator, it will be shut out of bidding for the new 5G spectrum which MTN believes is essential to its business.

Telkom, on the other hand, feared that larger operators would hog the spectrum and ICASA had no plans to make more bandwidth available to allow smaller providers to have a competitive edge.

“The current spectrum litigation impasse is nothing short of a lose-lose situation for all — consumers, industry players and the authority — as it serves to hamstring the growth of the sector and the full realisation of economic spinoffs and cost benefits for consumers,” ICASA said at the time.

By Luis Monzon
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