Vodacom and MTN join Telkom in temporary spectrum battle against Icasa

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Telkom, Vodacom and MTN  have turned to the court in hopes that they won't have to return additional spectrum from Icasa.
Telkom, Vodacom and MTN have turned to the court in hopes that they won't have to return additional spectrum from Icasa.
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  • In 2020, Icasa granted mobile operators like Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and other telecom service providers additional spectrum as part of the Covid-19 state of disaster. 
  • In August, Icasa said telecom operators had to return the spectrum by the end of November.
  • Telkom, Vodacom and MTN have approached the court to halt Icasa's move.

Vodacom has confirmed that it filed an affidavit supporting Telkom SA’s urgent interdict to prevent the ndependent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), from withdrawing temporary spectrum at the end of November.

In 2020, Icasa granted mobile operators like Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and other telecom service providers, additional spectrum as part of the Covid-19 state of disaster. But in August, the communications regulator said the telecom operators have to return the spectrum by the end of next month.

The operators protested and have since approached the court to prevent Icasa’s withdrawal, joining Telkom in its battle. 

"The main thrust of our argument is that while the National State of Disaster remains in force, the temporary spectrum cannot be withdrawn," said Vodacom’s spokesperson Byron Kennedy on Saturday.

He explained that about 10 million South Africans have benefitted from the temporary spectrum.

Fellow mobile operator MTN also filed papers at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Friday, opposing Icasa’s move. The group also lodged papers supporting Telkom’s application. 

MTN’s spokesperson Jacqui O'Sullivan said the demand for data on the network increased by 165% since the start of the pandemic and it’s not slowing down, despite the decline in Covid-19 cases.

"The temporary frequencies assigned to operators and paid for [have] been critical in meeting the data traffic surge, and without these frequencies the networks will not have been able to provide reliable and resilient network quality under current Covid-19 protocols where many people continue to work from home," O'Sullivan said.

She added that the withdrawal of the temporary spectrum also poses a significant risk to lower-income South Africans, including students and learners who have been using the free access. Removing the temporary spectrum means that MTN will no longer be able to offer students and learners free access to educational content on the scale that is has done throughout the pandemic.

More than five million people access over 1 000 websites zero-rated by MTN using the temporary spectrum, O'Sullivan said. She explained that the number of sites are more than double what was agreed to by most operators and most of the traffic was for educational content.

"MTN had hoped to resolve this matter outside of the courts but with the November deadline looming, we believe it is imperative we act to protect the millions of South Africans that have become so dependent on fast and stable data services. If an opportunity still exists to resolve the matter out of court, MTN remains open and constructive to that option," she concluded. 

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