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President Ramaphosa wants spectrum impasse resolved soon

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President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for mediation in the legal impasse that has held back the country’s spectrum auction process.

Ramaphosa made the remarks this afternoon during a media briefing as part of government’s effort to achieve a swift and lasting economic recovery.

Telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) was set to auction the long-awaited high-demand spectrum by 31 March 2021.

However, it was dealt a blow when MTN, Telkom and Etv took the regulator to court, challenging some aspects of the auction process.

Telkom filed its legal dispute for a number of reasons, including that the way the auction is structured will entrench the dominance of its rivals MTN and Vodacom.

Broadcaster Etv joined Telkom in its legal bid. Its argument is centred on ICASA’s plan to auction spectrum in the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands, where spectrum in these bands is still being used by TV broadcasters.

MTN also dragged ICASA to the North Gauteng High Court in January, challenging the way in which the regulator intends to license the 3.5GHz spectrum, which it said would result in Tier 1 operators being side-lined in the auction.

Responding to journalists during the briefing, the president said: “As you all know, we live in a country that is not only governed by democratic principles but by the rule of law. Players in that field [telecommunications], just like in any other field, can always approach our courts to adjudicate whatever disputes they have. So that has ensued.

“Last week, you will remember that I made a call to the role-players in the telecoms space to resolve the disputes they have, and have the disputes mediated upon so that we do not have legal suits holding the country’s progressive movement forward to hostage.”

Ramaphosa noted he is hoping the telecommunications companies will find it in their own interest to subject themselves to a mediation process.

“We will be very supportive of that process and I am sure ICASA, which is the regulator, will also actively participate, as will the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies in resolving this dispute.

“We would like to see this happen sooner rather than later because the spectrum auction process is one of those initiatives that is going to unlock a lot of energy in our country to enable our economy to also grow in the way we are beginning to see.

“So I would like to see that resolved and I am hoping the calls we keep making to the players will bear fruit,” he said.

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