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ICASA extends temporary spectrum assignments

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The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has resolved to extend the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to licensees, it announced on Thursday.

ICASA previously extended access to the temporary spectrum in March, allowing operators to use it for two months – from 1 April 2021 to 31 May 2021.

In a statement, the telecoms regulator says licensees will now be able to hold on to the temporary spectrum for a further three months – from 1 June 2021 to 31 August 2021.

This move follows review of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations, it notes.

ICASA points out that it hopes all key stakeholders will use this period to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse.

ICASA council chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng has also urged active litigants to participate in the ongoing settlement negotiations in order to resolve the matter.

Says Modimoeng: “The three-month extension affords an opportunity for all stakeholders to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse. Unfortunately, at some stage, we will not be able to continually extend these temporary spectrum assignments when a more permanent licensing route is struck through litigation. We need to come to the negotiations with well-meaning intentions, as soon as possible, to resolve this ongoing legal stand-off.

“We cannot perpetuate a pandemic-specific temporary arrangement to a point where it amounts to a backdoor spectrum licensing regime. High-demand spectrum ought to be licensed in a transparent and competitive manner; hence any other way is unjustifiable in the long run.”

According to the authority, it first published the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations on 6 April 2020, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Pursuant to the publication of these regulations, there have been various adjustments of the lockdown levels by the National Command Council, which ICASA continues to observe.

“It has been over a year and government – guided by scientific evidence – has also been extending the national disaster period on a month-to-month basis, which is clearly an indication that there is no permanence in this regard,” adds Modimoeng.

On 23 April 2021, the authority published a notice on the review of the regulations in the Government Gazette, seeking written submissions from interested stakeholders in an effort to comprehensively review the current regulations. The authority has since received written submissions.

Following consideration of written submissions, the authority resolved to make amendments to the regulations. These amendments include, among others, the following:

  • Assignment of the temporary radio frequency spectrum – which has now been extended for three months.
  • Current spectrum pooling arrangements – the duration of all spectrum sharing agreements approved by the authority pursuant to these regulations shall not exceed the duration of the temporary radio frequency spectrum licences.
  • Obligations attendant upon temporarily assigned spectrum – all licensees assigned with temporary spectrum must maintain network connectivity in line with regulatory requirements for the virtual classroom platforms allocated respectively to them by the authority, free of charge, for a period of 17 months from the date of confirmation of deployment by the operator.
  • Type-approval relaxation measures – type-approved equipment that operates in the radio frequency spectrum that is temporarily assigned in terms of these regulations shall be decommissioned within three months after the expiry of the temporary radio frequency spectrum licences. 
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