Icasa: ‘We followed the law in spectrum auction invite’

Johannesburg - South Africa’s communications regulator has defended its move to launch a wireless broadband spectrum auction amid government threatening legal action over the move.

Earlier this month, Icasa invited applicants to apply for 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum licences, which will boost the rollout of faster LTE broadband across the country.

The auction for the licences is expected to occur in January 2017 and the reserve price to bid on lots of spectrum will be R3bn.

But on Monday night, Telecoms and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele said his office plans to sue Icasa over the auction.

Key reasons for Cwele’s planned legal action include that government has not yet established policy direction on spectrum and that Icasa allegedly failed to adhere to legislation and regulations.

But Icasa said its invite to applicants to bid on the spectrum is legal.

“Icasa has noted the contents of the Minister’s statement and believe that we have followed the law as it currently applies in publishing the ITA (Invitation to Apply),” said Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka in an emailed statement.

“However, Icasa will decide on a course of action once papers have been filed with the courts,” said Maleka.

Meanwhile, the move by Cwele to threaten legal action against Icasa has been met with criticism from opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The DA’s Marian Shinn, who is the Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, said in a statement on Monday that she had written to Cwele to urge him to halt his office’s legal action.

“The matter of how to allocate wireless broadband spectrum that is critical to the expansion of South Africa’s knowledge-based service delivery and economic growth, has been subjected to a decade of politically inspired delays within the governing ANC as it dithered on how it could control the potentially lucrative spectrum,” said Shinn.

“Icasa’s bold step to issue the invitation to prospective bidders came after ten years of dithering on the spectrum policy by successive ANC communications ministers over how it was best to allocate the high-demand spectrum to ‘new’ entrants to the telecommunications sector,” Shinn added.

Shinn further said that South Africa’s spectrum policy has been “unnecessarily bogged down” in an ICT Policy White Paper review process that was started in 2012. Shinn further said this policy is “now entangled in a tug-of-war of competing factions in the ANC’s communications sub-committee after it was submitted to Cabinet in March”.

“The reasons why successive communications ministers have delayed the issue of policy and the assignment of spectrum have never been clear,” said Shinn.

“But what is certain is that repeated delays by politicians are negatively impacting the empowerment, through ICTs, of all South Africans – particularly the marginalised communities – and is a major hindrance to the economic growth and job creation potential of South Africa,” said Shinn.

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