Icasa expects spectrum dispute to be resolved by August

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South Africa’s telecommunications regulator said it expects to settle a legal dispute with mobile-phone companies over the auction of the new broadband spectrum by the end of August.

“Ongoing settlement negotiations on spectrum litigation are unfolding, well and with a very encouraging outlook,” the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said in a statement late week.

The MTN Group, which has the second-most subscribers in the country, and Telkom SA have appealed to the courts about how the regulator is arranging the auction, which was announced in October after years of delays and is expected to raise more than R8 billion. 

The legal action prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to hit out at mobile-phone companies last week, urging them to resolve the matter for the benefit of the country.

Keabetswe Modimoeng, the regulator’s chair, said in the statement that it welcomes the president’s comments and is "confident that, based on the discussions and concessions brought about by the parties," it should "be in a good position to yield an amicable settlement agreement by no later than end of August 2021."

Once a deal is reached, Icasa will "need a few more weeks to set the spectrum auction process in motion, and to communicate the new closing date for the Wireless Open Access Network applications," Modimoeng said.

Market leader Vodacom, which hasn’t objected to the process, and MTN have long called for a wider spectrum to expand their data services and boost revenue. The government sees the move as a way to attract investment and help revive a moribund economy.

Both sides say the plan will bring down prices, which have led to regulator censure and protests from users.

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