Competitors review Telkom’s softened spectrum stance

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There is lack of conviction among mobile operators that Telkom’s announcement yesterday that it is prepared to halt its urgent application to interdict the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will lead to an expedited process of issuing spectrum.

Telkom’s peers Cell C, Vodacom and MTN, as well as telecoms regulator ICASA, are consulting their respective legal teams, to better understand the latest developments and implications for the planned spectrum auction.

Yesterday, Telkom said it is prepared to remove its urgent application to interdict ICASA from issuing spectrum from the court roll if the parties to the case are amenable to an expedited review of its concerns with the licensing process.

The application is in two segments. Part A requests the court to urgently suspend the invitation to apply issued last month, while the court deliberates on part B of the application, which focuses on the merits of Telkom’s arguments against the licensing process.

“Telkom is prepared to remove part A of its application from the court roll if the parties are amenable to an expedited review on part B. This is on condition that the review is heard before the finalisation of the spectrum auction process, or if ICASA is prepared to move the dates of auction finalisation to await the court judgement,” Telkom said in a statement.

The court action irked Cell C, Vodacom and MTN, which are unhappy with further delays in allocating spectrum.

Reacting to Telkom’s announcement yesterday, the three mobile operators remain unconvinced this move will hasten the release of spectrum.

“The withdrawal of the interdict application is not a guarantee that the spectrum auction and licensing will be a smooth process. Perpetual delays are a zero-sum game for South Africans. It is not in the interests of consumers or competition,” says Zahir Williams, Cell C chief legal officer.

“The allocation of temporary spectrum has already helped lower data prices and improve connectivity. It hints to what permanent licensing could achieve. It will broaden access, improve connectivity and lower data costs. Ultimately, consumers pay the price if there are further delays; they deserve more and better.”

Likewise, Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy tells ITWeb the mobile operator remains committed to working with all industry stakeholders to realise a fair and successful spectrum auction process.

“As we have said previously, it is critical the spectrum auction takes place as soon as possible to further the country’s development. Delays in the award of new spectrum have curbed the pace at which data prices could have fallen in South Africa and this impasse needs to be urgently resolved in the best interests of all South Africans.”

MTN, which was the first telco to oppose the court application, says it is in consultation to understand the implications of Telkom’s latest stance.

“We have noted the developments regarding the legal action against the spectrum auction. We are currently assessing the matter to better understand the detail of these latest developments,” says MTN.

ICASA, which has been under pressure to allocate spectrum, is also reviewing Telkom’s proposal with lawyers.

“ICASA confirms receipt of Telkom's correspondence but cannot divulge any further information at this stage. We will communicate once we have received legal counsel,” it says.

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