Court showdown as MTN files papers against Telkom

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MTN says it has filed court papers to oppose Telkom’s latest court action, aimed to prevent the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from processing the invitations to apply (ITAs) for high-demand spectrum.

This week, Telkom confirmed it had filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the ITAs for spectrum published by ICASA on 10 December 2021.

The application includes an urgent interdict to prevent ICASA from processing any applications until the review is heard.

Operators have waited for almost 15 years for ICASA to release spectrum licences, which are anticipated to increase access to connectivity, lower data costs and add network capacity, as smartphone adoption continues to accelerate in South Africa.

In a statement, MTN expresses concerns that the interdict will further delay the spectrum auction process, during a time when the need for expanded access to high-speed broadband has never been more important for South Africans and the country’s economic recovery.

MTN says throughout last year, it consistently worked with the regulator to avoid further delays in the spectrum process.

“Spectrum is not just an industry issue, this is an issue for all our people and while there are certainly elements of the ITA that are a concern, we have to work together to best benefit the people of South Africa,” says MTN SA CEO, Charles Molapisi.

“We need to provide sustained data quality and speed but most importantly, continued reductions in the price of data. Spectrum is the key to this, and we need to collaborate now, with the regulator and all stakeholders, to unlock SA’s economic recovery.”

In a recent statement, ICASA expressed concerns that Telkom’s “selfish interests are highly regrettable”, noting it is currently consulting with its legal team to carefully study the telco’s court action.

In a statement, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies said minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni will engage Telkom regarding an out-of-court settlement on the matter.

Ntshavheni stated she is taking legal advice and expressed concern that the telco did not consult her department prior to launching the high court bid.

“The minister is taking legal advice and she will respond accordingly to Telkom’s court application. In the meantime, the minister will engage Telkom and all relevant parties with the aim to reach an out-of-court settlement and avoid further delays in the release.”

While the current ITA process is not perfect, MTN points out it believes ICASA has tried to strike a delicate balance for all players.

“We cannot have a repeat of 2021, where the entire process was delayed for another full year and that on the back of 14 years of no additional spectrum being added to the industry. A successful spectrum auction has the capacity to not only release much-needed funds into the national fiscus, but it will have an immediate impact on consumers.”

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