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Spectrum licensing delay ‘devastating’, says SA comms forum

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 09 Mar 2021

The South African Communications Forum (SACF) says the consequence of the delay in the licensing of critical high-demand spectrum is “devastating for the sector, consumers and the economy”.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was set to auction the long-awaited high-demand spectrum by 31 March.

However, it was dealt a blow yesterday when it was interdicted by the North Gauteng High Court following an urgent application by Telkom to halt the spectrum auction.

Mobile operator Telkom claimed the process was flawed and telecoms regulator ICASA must address its concerns before proceeding with the allocation of high-demand spectrum.

In a statement, SACF notes the judgement, saying it awaits the judgement that will contain the details.

The industry association stresses the delay will further constrain current operators and prevent new operators from entering the fray.

“The delay means greater congestion and poorer quality of service for consumers as a result of congestion.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, operators were granted a slight reprieve by the granting of temporary spectrum, which has offered some relief to operators battling with congested networks. The temporary spectrum has been granted until 31 March 2021, which we are hopeful will be extended for the duration of the delay to mitigate the harm to consumers and the degradation of services.

“Operators have long bemoaned the delays in spectrum licensing, which will impact several of government’s key programmes, including reducing the cost to communicate and delaying an effective digital economy, otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution.”

It adds: “The role of spectrum had been primed as a critical tool to unlock economic growth. Further delays to the licensing process of the high-demand spectrum will continue to severely impact economic growth and has been cited as one of the reasons for the recent investment downgrades.

“The licensing of high-demand spectrum has been halted at every instance, the last of which was in 2016 and resulted in a three-year pause – the shortest hiatus in the licensing process.

“This interdict, therefore, raises grave concerns on the length of the delay and its impact on the economy and the sector. We, therefore, urge all parties to work together to find a solution that will ultimately benefit consumers and the country at large.”