Icasa set to publish long-awaited invitations to apply for spectrum

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  • Icasa announced the publication of the invitation for telecommunication companies to apply for spectrum.
  • The release of spectrum was expected to lower the cost of communication and access to broadband.
  • Additionally, the validity period of emergency spectrum released earlier this year due to the pandemic would also be extended. 

Telecommunication companies will soon be able to submit applications for spectrum, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), announced on Wednesday.

The invitation to apply for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) also known as high demand spectrum and Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) was set to be published before 2 October. 

The closing date for the invitation for the high-demand spectrum was 28 December, while the applications for WOAN close on 30 March 2021.

Initially the auction of high-demand spectrum was scheduled for December 2020, but had been pushed back to 31 March 2021.

The regulator had subsequently extended the validity period of the additional spectrum it granted earlier this year on a temporary basis, to allow communication service providers to ensure connectivity during the national state of disaster.

"In light of the fact that the auctioning of the high demand spectrum will now be completed before 31 March 2021, the Authority will embark on a process to amend the ICT Covid-19 National State of Disaster Regulations in order to extend the validity period of the emergency temporary spectrum to no later than 31 March 2021," Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng said.

The details and conditions for the extension would be outlined in the ICT Covid-19 National State of Disaster Amendment Regulations, which would be published in due course, Modimoeng added. 

Modimoeng said the spectrum auction proceeds would have "broader economic benefits" for the country. "They will also incentivise broadband infrastructure investment and thus stimulate economic growth."

The regulatory body said it would make 406 MHz of spectrum available for mobile broadband services, adding that it had conducted an intensive spectrum fair valuation study and competition assessment using international benchmarking. Concerns had been raised that the allocation could disadvantage smaller players in the sector.

It said the main objective of the competition assessment was to ensure the expansion of the market.

"This means that the national and sub-national wholesalers are taken into consideration in terms of the spectrum to be awarded and the new players are able to partake in this process," said Modimoeng.

READ| Despite delay, Telkom's Maseko hails movement on release of spectrum

The licensing of high-demand spectrum had been touted as one of the key components for economic growth, as it was expected to fast-track the roll-out of high speed broadband and eventually bring down the cost of internet and communication services as well as the release of new generation networks such as 5G.

In July 2016, Icasa invited applicants for spectrum licences, and the allocation process faced numerous challenges, including litigation by former communications minister Siyabonga Cwele, who argued at the time that government's policy regarding spectrum had not yet been finalised and that the sale risked only benefitting big companies with access to capital.

Cwele successfully asked the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to halt the planned auction.

South Africans were generally said to be paying more for internet access compared to other developing countries, although companies had, in the past few months, been slashing prices, following interventions by the Competition Commission.

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