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ICASA resolute emergency spectrum allocation is temporary

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Industry players “should not see and should not even plan” their business models around the temporary spectrum they were assigned, warns Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

Modimoeng issued the warning yesterday during ICASA’s briefing on its 2021/22 annual performance plan before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications.

Responding to whether the temporary spectrum assigned will continue to be allocated post the currently extended deadline, the chairperson stressed that ICASA remains committed to assigning high-demand spectrum through a competitive process.

He told the committee: “Industry players need to focus on resolving this current litigation impasse, so that we can move into an era of permanently assigned spectrum.

“The fair value of spectrum will be determined through a competitive process. This thing of giving spectrum temporarily and only collecting licence fees, it was an interim measure.

“Industry players should not see and should not even plan their business models around this temporary spectrum assignment.”

Modimoeng continued to emphasise that the assignment of temporary spectrum is something “very unprecedented” occasioned by an unprecedented disaster in our country and the world.

“Sooner rather than later, we may be in a position where it becomes increasingly difficult to account to South Africans on why this very critical resource of theirs is continuously given to industry on a temporary basis.

“It’s very temporary and these industry players need to be encouraged to go to the negotiation table – we have opened room for negotiations – some are cooperative, and some, we are still unsure where they stand.

“We will know hopefully in the next week or two, once we have collated all the inputs. On this one, we will not budge and we will not start to encourage a sense of permanence of a temporary arrangement.”

After the spectrum auction process was halted in March, the telecoms regulator decided to extend the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to licensees for a further two months until 31 May 2021.

It said in a statement at the time that the temporary release of high-demand spectrum to licensees aimed to mitigate the impact of the national state of disaster following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, mainly by easing network congestion, maintaining good quality of broadband services, and enabling licensees to lower the cost of access to consumers.

ICASA pointed out that following the expiry of the temporary spectrum extension on 31 May 2021, it will embark on a comprehensive review of the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations, which include the radio frequency spectrum extensions, as well as the relaxation of compliance requirements in respect of local content for broadcasters, and type approval obligations.

Modimoeng pointed out that the litigation threats against the authority are an inherent threat to regulatory processes.

“We cannot over-emphasise it,” he noted. “The litigation issue is a global regulatory phenomenon…it’s really a big threat and it’s directly linked to that sub-optimal funding model. If we are not properly funded, we will take decisions from a regulatory perspective but we will fail to defend those.”

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