Ndabeni-Abrahams urges mediation as courts park delayed spectrum auction

Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: GCIS
  • Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni Abrahams said her ministry remained open to mediation with the parties involved to find a common solution to the impasse.
  • The North Gauteng High Court ordered the Independent Communications Regulator of South Africa to halt the auction of spectrum licenses.
  • Icasa expressed confidence that the delayed auction would commence despite court action initiated by Telkom and e.tv.

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams urged companies in the long-delayed auction for spectrum to come to the mediation table after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered a halt to the process.

This comes after the court ordered on Monday that the Independent Communications Regulator of South Africa halt the auction of spectrum licenses, following an application by Telkom and e.tv to the courts on the matter.

The release of spectrum has been punted by government as key to the digital migration switch from analogue to digital as well as ensuring connectivity to communities across the country and thereby lowering the cost of data in South Africa.

While Telkom and e.tv went to court to have the process reviewed on the basis of perceived procedural flaws, Telkom later withdrew the portion of its application which seeks to compel Icasa to notify other bidders that had applied, continuing with the rest of it's application to the courts.

A critical step in this process is awarding spectrum licenses to service providers, which was meant to commence this month. This would also allow cell phone networks Vodacom and MTN to expand their connectivity capacity and implement 5G.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Ndabeni-Abrahams the ministry remained open to mediation with the parties involved to find a common solution "through alternative dispute resolution outside of the court process".

"The department remains committed and focused on completing the broadcasting digital migration project and switching off all analogue transmitters in line with the announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa during this year's State of the Nation Address.

"We are calling on all parties and the sector to work together in the spirit of give and take and avert further delays on auctioning of spectrum," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Icasa chair Keabetswe Modimoeng said while the authority waits for the reasons behind the judgement, it was confident in the judiciary and the licensing process' finalisation.

"We have never been so close to licensing high demand spectrum. We were literally three weeks away from auctioning this much-needed resource that would have seen South Africans benefit through this process in terms of reduced data costs and improvement in quality of service and experience. In commitment to our public interest mandate, the Council of Icasa has resolved to exhaust all legal avenues in respect of this process," said Modimoeng.

The spectrum radio frequency release to mobile telecoms providers is expected to serve as a catalyst for economic growth, as more households and business enjoy better and faster connectivity. However, the process of auctioning spectrum has had a series of false starts since 2010.
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