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ICASA moves to finalise high-demand spectrum licensing

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The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) plans to issue an invitation to apply (ITA) for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum, commonly known as high-demand spectrum, at the end of this financial quarter (end of June).

ICASA revealed this timeline during its briefing to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications on the licensing of high-demand spectrum, among other initiatives.

The ITA is for licences for spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands, which the regulator has committed to auction by December.

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.

According to ICASA council acting chairperson Dimakatso Qocha, among the objectives of licensing the IMT spectrum is to promote universal service and access, including rural access.

Further goals include giving consumers more choice in terms of quality of services and user experience, promoting investment in the sector and stimulating economic growth, ensuring affordability of services as well as promoting competition within the sector, stated Qocha.

Briefing the committee on spectrum licensing, ICASA councillor Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa said the process was kick-started upon the publication of the policy direction by the ministry on 26 July 2019.

“Having considered the policy direction, the authority then published the information memorandum last year on 1 November,” noted Gongxeka-Seopa. “We had made provisions for stakeholders to respond to the authority by the 31st of January 2020, of which we did receive comments from stakeholders. In total, we received 48 submissions, which we as the council committee have considered.”

“The work that has happened since then to date is that as the council committee, we had to consider all the submissions received from all the stakeholders but also importantly work towards finalising the ITA, which has been under way.

“As the council committee, we are almost ready to table the ITA to the council for consideration. Subsequently, we will be able to publish the ITA very soon.

“Quarter one of our deliverables was to draft the ITA. The current quarter is for us as the authority to publish the ITA between now and June 2020, so we are very close as the authority to publishing it.”

Gongxeka-Seopa added that once the ITA is published, ICASA expects to receive applications and based on timelines, the regulator expects to receive all the applications within quarter two of this financial year (September 2020).

“Under quarter three, the authority will embark on a process of a pre-qualification assessment with an aim to make sure we achieve and reach our target of auctioning the spectrum for the IMT by quarter three of this year, which is December 2020.”

The WOAN way

Turning to the wholesale open access network (WOAN), ICASA councillor Thembeka Semane said the authority has made sure this process is aligned with the timelines and objectives for the IMT spectrum.

“Similar to the IMT process, as the WOAN committee, we have received submissions and have analysed them, and we have continued to draft the ITA, which we finalised last week and is ready for the council.

“What is important to lift out of the submissions that we have received, where it relates to the risks associated with the WOAN, is the viability of the WOAN. This is concerning the minimum capacity take-off, as well as duration thereof.”

Based on the ICASA presentation to the committee, the WOAN ITA is likely to be published by the end of quarter one or early quarter two of this financial year.

Applications are expected to be received in quarter three of 2020, which is between July and September. A public consultation process is planned, with public hearings expected in quarter one of 2021, between April and June 2021.

Adherence to the requisite legislative and regulatory requirements means the process is likely to take 14 to 18 months to complete from date of publication of the ITA, according to the presentation.

Commenting on the timelines for the WOAN and IMT roadmaps, Qocha said these were conceived pre-coronavirus.

While it may have been anticipated there might be a risk in meeting the timelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authority took the decision to stick to the timelines, she said.

“We have not tweaked timelines in as far as the deliverables are concerned,” Qocha stated.

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