ICASA wants spectrum ‘settlement discussion’

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2021
ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) is amenable to a settlement discussion over the spectrum allocation, but remains adamant it is not open to mediation over the long-awaited process.

The regulator’s plans to auction the spectrum later this month suffered a major setback last week, when it was interdicted by the North Gauteng High Court following an urgent application by Telkom to halt the spectrum auction.

Telkom claimed the process was flawed and the regulator must address its concerns before proceeding with the allocation.

ICASA set the ball rolling for the spectrum auction in October, announcing the invitation to apply (ITA) for the licensing of International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum, also known as high-demand spectrum, and that of the wholesale open access network.

Yesterday, ICASA said having taken legal advice on the matter, it will pursue an expedited appeal against the decision of the High Court; however, it is mindful that the legal process may not be the only option to resolve the matter. As such, the regulator is also exploring entering into settlement discussions with active litigants in this matter.

ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng says while the telecoms regulator is open to “settlement discussions”, it is “not entering into any mediation process”.

“We are of the view, and have been accordingly advised, that there are good grounds for an appeal on this particular matter. Hence, we are going ahead with such an appeal. We are, however, not entering into any mediation process but are open to explore settlement discussions with parties that deposed affidavits in court.”

MTN, Telkom and broadcaster Etv have lodged court applications querying the planned spectrum allocation.

Modimoeng initially stated reservations on conciliation last week, when minister of communications and digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams offered to mediate between the warring parties.

She said: “The ministry remains open to mediation for the parties involved, in order to find a common solution through alternative dispute resolution outside of the court process.”

However, Modimoeng responded: “We were here in 2016 when an interdict on a similar matter was issued, and that led the authority to enter into an out-of-court settlement, withdrawal of the ITA and other forms of mediation. Such interventions took us nowhere. We are not going back there.”

The growing impasse has also solicited strong reaction from industry analysts, who say parties must focus on the best outcome for the country and close all legal loopholes that may result in further delays to the process.