‘Slight’ delay in invitation for spectrum, says ICASA

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The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) said yesterday it will “slightly delay” publication of the invitation to apply (ITA) for the wholesale open access network (WOAN) and International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum.

This is despite the telecoms regulator’s briefing to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications last month that the ITAs would be published “very soon”, noting the end of this financial quarter (end of June 2020) as a possible publication date.

In a statement, ICASA says it’s important to note it has made extensive progress in developing both ITAs following the analysis of the submissions on the information memorandum.

However, given the complexity of the process, there are additional considerations the authority must apply itself to. “This has resulted in the authority having slightly delayed the publication of the ITAs,” says ICASA acting chairperson advocate Dimakatso Qocha.

The ITA for IMT spectrum, commonly known as high-demand spectrum, is for licences in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands, which the regulator plans to auction by December 2020.

The release of spectrum through an auction has been high on government’s agenda as a way to add funds to the fiscus, to benefit the South African economy.

Furthermore, mobile operators have been clamouring for access to new spectrum for over a decade, as they need it to provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services.

South Africa’s last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment. Vodacom and MTN were allocated such spectrum, respectively, in 2004 and 2005, while Cell C received such spectrum in 2011.

During this time, mobile operators have had to split and refarm their spectrum resources to mitigate spectrum shortages and expand 4G availability.

ICASA asserts that the licensing of high-demand spectrum remains critical in facilitating the deployment of digital infrastructure for consumers and the business sector in their realisation of the digital economy, and participation towards the fourth industrial revolution.

In addition, the regulator says it recognises the need for effective deployment, uptake and use of information and communications technology, and global interconnectedness to speed up human interaction, and to bridge the digital divide among South Africans.

“The authority remains committed to its plans of releasing spectrum that will see different sectors of the society benefitting, and participating meaningfully in the digital economy. This, we are doing in order to ensure business development, promote investment, stimulate economic growth, and indeed promote good quality broadband services, as well as enable licensees to lower cost of communications in South Africa,” states Qocha.

The authority assures all stakeholders that it is working earnestly to ensure the processes are completed without undue delay.

However, adherence to due administrative process, both substantively and procedurally, is more fundamental to these licensing processes, it concludes.

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