ICASA changes tack on spectrum dispute

ICASA changes tack on spectrum dispute

The South African dispute that has delayed a planned spectrum auction in the country still hasn’t been resolved. However, communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) on Tuesday moved to avoid a lengthy court battle over the issue, saying it believes the auction could still happen by January.

In a statement it said: “ICASA has now decided to consent to an order setting aside its decision to publish the invitations to apply (ITAs) in order to avoid a long, drawn-out litigation, the effect of which would only be to delay further the licensing of high-demand spectrum and the wireless open-access network (WOAN).”

This means that the licensing of high-demand spectrum and the WOAN will now be reconsidered by the authority taking into consideration the issues raised by the litigants.

Operators MTN and Telkom have both appealed to courts about the planned structure of the auction, approved in October last year after lengthy delays.

MTN argues that ICASA’s apparent wish to prioritize smaller operators means MTN will be shut out of bidding for new 5G spectrum. Telkom has said that two of the bandwidths it wants are occupied by broadcasters and there’s no plan to make them available. ICASA’s statement may be seen as favouring the operators’ position, but there’s clearly some way to go before anything is resolved.

However, everyone, including market leader Vodacom, wants operators to get more spectrum as soon as possible in order to expand data services, boost investment and enhance revenue. There’s also the possibility that more spectrum will bring down data prices that are seen as far too high by end users.

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