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ICASA finally invites operators to apply for high-demand spectrum

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After three months of drawn-out negotiations, the wait is over, as the council of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has issued the final invitation to apply (ITA) for the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum.

The ITA will be published in the Government Gazette today.

ICASA says the publication of the ITA follows three months of consultation it undertook through the publication of the first and second information memorandum (IM) on 1 October and 15 November 2021, respectively.

The regulator has been bickering with telcos over spectrum for some time, which had threatened government’s developmental agenda and derailed key private sector investment plans.

Subsequently, a new roadmap was drawn up following the consent order granted by the North Gauteng High Court on 15 September, which ended the litigation instituted against the authority by Telkom and Etv.

Now, the regulator says applications for the spectrum are due no later than 16h00 on 31 January 2022, while the announcement of qualifying bids and commencement of the actual auction has been scheduled for 21 February and 8 March 2022, respectively.

In licensing of high-demand spectrum through this ITA, ICASA says, it aims to ensure the realisation of many of the key policy objectives originally identified in the SA Connect broadband policy, particularly as regards the provision of universal and affordable broadband services for all South Africans.

Also, in framing the current ITA, ICASA says, it considered the issues raised by stakeholders in their challenge to the previous licensing processes (particularly the 2020 ITA), as well as the representations received in relation to the first and second IMs.

In addressing competition concerns that led to the protracted litigation process, ICASA says, it has now provided for the auction design (in the ITA) to include, among other provisions spectrum floors and spectrum caps, the opt-in round, and spectrum-sharing provisions.

These provisions, it says, are designed to facilitate the entry of new players into the market, and to promote “consumer welfare through access to high-quality communication services” at affordable and competitive prices.

“The publication of the first and second IM was done to ensure stakeholders can have a clearer preview of the intended licensing process and associated licensing conditions – and be afforded the opportunity to make representations to the authority on what the final licensing process and conditions should entail,” says ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

“The authority is grateful for the representations received, and has fully considered those views in their entirety.”

ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

Further, ICASA says, taking into account the ongoing broadcasting digital migration process, it will make available the status of the coverage maps on the IMT700 and IMT800 spectrum bands, in collaboration with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, before the commencement of the auction.

“Should the digital migration process not be completed by the time the auction is concluded, the authority will apply proportional payment formulae for IMT700 and IMT800 bands,” says ICASA.

The regulator adds it has resolved to separate the auction of high-demand spectrum and the licensing of the wholesale open access network (WOAN).

ICASA says it believes the auction will proceed seamlessly, and that the spectrum set aside for the WOAN will be licensed in due course, following the engagements with the relevant stakeholders on the licensing of the WOAN.

Modimoeng comments: “We urge all industry stakeholders to embrace this licensing process, and the auction, as this is the most open and transparent way in which spectrum will be permanently awarded. All the other provisional spectrum arrangements remain in the interim and will end at the stipulated and communicated dates.

“Furthermore, we are pleased to note the combined auction reserve prices will yield a minimum of R8 billion for the national fiscus, including enhanced obligations for the benefit of consumers and society-at-large.”

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