Fees for broadcasting spectrum paid, says ICASA

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 13 Nov 2023
ICASA has confirmed the payment of broadcasting spectrum fees.
ICASA has confirmed the payment of broadcasting spectrum fees.

The outstanding licence fees for the broadcasting spectrum have been settled, says the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

This, after the telecoms regulator gave successful bidders of the sub-1GHz (700MHz-800MHz) spectrum bands a deadlineof the end October to pay outstanding amounts.

The payment was deferred until availability of the broadcasting spectrum occupied by the analogue television signals.

The mobile network operators that were awarded the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum paid the amounts proportional to the available spectrum in the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands, while the broadcasting services were being cleared.

Responding to ITWeb’s questions, ICASA confirms: “All the licensees that were expected to pay by the end of October 2023 have paid accordingly. These payments are in respect of the IMT700 and IMT800 spectrum, as per the ITA [invitation to apply] agreement, that has since been freed up by phase one of the analogue switch-off.”

In March 2022, ICASA concluded the auction of the IMT spectrum – also known as high-demand radio frequency spectrum. The regulator indicated the auction process beat financial projections, raising R14.4 billion for the national fiscus.

ICASA received spectrum applications from six mobile players: Cell C, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, MTN, Rain Networks, Telkom and Vodacom.

Bidding for the 700MHz and 800MHz radio frequency bands were MTN, Rain, Telkom and Vodacom.

At the time, the regulator revealedRain will fork out R1.15 billion for two chunks of 10MHz spectrum in the 700MHz band, with Telkom paying R1.5 billion for two chunks of 10MHz spectrum in the 800MHz band.

In their latest financial results, big-two telcos MTN SA and Vodacom state they have settled their outstanding spectrum fees.

Last week, MTN SA said it has paid R1.9 billion in outstanding spectrum fees to ICASA, noting this was for the low-band 800MHz spectrum acquired in the 2022 auction.

Meanwhile, Vodacom said in its results today that the spectrum licence was effective on 1 July 2022, and it paid R3.2 billion in the first half of the prior financial year for this spectrum. “The outstanding amount was paid on 30 October 2023.”

While ICASA has received the payments in respect of the IMT700 and IMT800 spectrum, the authority points out that the final portion of the spectrum auction fees must be paid by December 2023.

When asked, ICASA declined to provide a breakdown of the amounts or disclose which telcos still owe, saying it “won’t be able to disclose that yet”.

Says the authority: “ICASA had previously established the due dates for the outstanding fees, with a specific agreement that the final portion of the spectrum auction fees will be settled by 31 December 2023.”

After more than a decade, local mobile operators were finally able to acquire high-demand radio frequency spectrum last year. The last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment.

The allocation of high-demand spectrum by means of an auction formed a key part of government’s economic structural reforms to boost the fiscus.

Access to high‐demand spectrum will help mobile operators provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services. On the consumer front, it would mean making affordable data available to firms and households.

The auction and newly-licensed spectrum was recently acknowledged by National Treasury for its potential to facilitate wider and lower‐cost coverage.