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ICASA wants emergency spectrum fees after telcos’ stellar results

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The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has asked telcos to pay for the emergency spectrum issued during the COVID-19 disaster regulations.

This as SA’s leading mobile operators posted strong results during the National State of Disaster as more people took to working and learning from home.

Operators such as Vodacom and MTN have already made use of the temporary spectrum to launch next-generation 5G networks.

In April, ICASA assigned temporary spectrum, announcing Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and Rain among the recipients.

The regulator considered applications for temporary spectrum in the following bands: 700MHz, 800MHz, 2 300MHz, 2 600MHz and 3 500MHz, as well as the use of television whites paces.

It said out of all applications received, only 17 were found to be in line with the criteria and conditions outlined in annexure A of the regulations.

Regulatory amendments

In a statement on Friday, ICASA says in light of the fact that the auctioning of the high-demand spectrum will occur in March 2021, the ICASA council has approved the amendment of the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations in order to extend the validity period of the temporary assignment of radio frequency spectrum to no later than 31 March 2021.

The initial date within which the temporary spectrum was supposed to be returned to the authority was 30 November 2020.

The council has also resolved that all licensees who have been assigned temporary spectrum and wish to continue using it for the extended period (until 31 March 2021) will be required to pay the prescribed radio frequency spectrum licence fees.

ICASA notes that in releasing the initial temporary spectrum to meet the high demand for services during high levels of the lockdown and the National State of Disaster, the authority did not require any payment of fees for use of such spectrum.

“We are aware that licensees generated and reported revenue growth during this period,” says ICASA chairman Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng. “We have, therefore, resolved that, in addition to fulfilment of the obligations imposed with the release of temporary spectrum, the extended use of spectrum must be at a fee as provided for in the amended regulations.”

Modimoeng’s comments come as local telcos recently posted impressive results amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had adverse effects on the South African economy.

In the first half of the year, Telkom Mobile’s data traffic went up 81%, which the company attributed to the increase in people working from home and online schooling due to the COVID-19-induced national lockdown.

Vodacom reported blowout half-year results, ended 30 September, buoyed by double-digit data usage growth. Data traffic was up 86% year-on-year for the period, with Vodacom saying its data customers grew 4.1% to 22.3 million and smart devices were up by 9.5% to 22.2 million.

Similarly, MTN’s data revenue grew by 31.9%, bolstered by increased demand for work from home services, digital entertainment as well as online education offerings.

ICASA chairman Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
ICASA chairman Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

Spectrum sharing arrangements

ICASA notes that as regards spectrum sharing arrangements which may have been implemented in accordance with regulation 6(10), (11) and (12) of the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations, the authority advises that the continued validity of such arrangement is to be subject to specific renewal and/or approval process by the authority.

The authority hereby reminds prospective applicants for the radio frequency spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) that the closing date remains 28 December 2020 at 16h00.

Furthermore, it notes, the prospective applicants are advised to request invoices for the prescribed application fee on the e-mail address provided in the invitation to apply (ITA).

Finally, the authority confirms the reasons document on the ITA for IMT spectrum and the wholesale open access network (WOAN) will be released by no later than 4 December 2020.

On the other hand, following the release of the ITA for the Individual Electronic Communications Network Service Licence and the Radio Frequency Spectrum Licence for the provision of a WOAN on 2 October 2020, the authority will be conducting virtual workshops from 9 to 11 December 2020 in respect of this ITA.

According to the regulator, these workshops are intended to provide a platform and opportunity for prospective applicants to unpack the requirements of the WOAN ITA and to ensure a successful licensing process. The link to the workshop shall be communicated in due course.

“We allowed for clarity seeking questions on the IMT ITA and provided responses in this regard. We believe that the workshops and the responses will go a long way in providing clarity for all interested stakeholders and ensure the process is fully understood and give effect to procedural fairness and administrative justice,” concludes Modimoeng.

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