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Telkom backs down on spectrum interdict against ICASA

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Telkom’s group executive for regulatory affairs and government relations, Dr Siyabonga Mahlangu
Telkom’s group executive for regulatory affairs and government relations, Dr Siyabonga Mahlangu

Telkom has asked the courts to remove from the roll its urgent application to interdict telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from auctioning spectrum.

The move follows Telkom’s announcement this week that it was 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.

Telkom approached the North Gauteng High Court earlier this month to review and set aside the invitation to apply (ITA) for spectrum published by ICASA on 10 December 2021.

The matter sucked in Telkom’s peers – Cell C, Vodacom and MTN – which were unhappy with further delays in allocating spectrum.

MTN was the first to express its discontent with Telkom, saying the interdict it sought would further delay the spectrum auction process at a time when the need for expanded access to high-speed broadband is urgent.

Cell C and Vodacom then followed, saying the move to further delay spectrum allocation was unappealing to the telecoms industry and the public in general.

When it seemed all the parties had settled for the spectrum to be allocated in March this year, Telkom, once again, threw a spanner in the process.

Telkom said it had serious difficulties with ICASA’s decision to again include sub 1 GHz spectrum in the intended auction.

The telco argued  this band is currently the subject of a legal challenge brought by broadcaster Etv.

In a statement today, the telecommunications company says: “Telkom has reached agreement with all the respondents on the need to expedite the hearing for part B of Telkom’s two-part application.”

Telkom’s application was in two segments – part A, which requested the court to urgently suspend the ITA, while the court deliberates on part B of Telkom’s application, which focuses on the merits of its arguments against the licensing process.

“In line with the agreement between the parties, while we await the decision of the court on the proposed timelines for the hearing of the review, Telkom will be removing the hearing of part A of its application from the urgent roll,” says Dr Siyabonga Mahlangu Telkom’s group executive for regulatory and government relations.

However, Telkom says it reserves its right to reinstate the matter on short notice should it become necessary.

Part A of Telkom’s two-part application was set to be heard on Tuesday, 25 January. Telkom has proposed that part B of the application be heard from 1 to 4 March, should the court be able to accommodate the request.

“Telkom is pleased with the cooperation it has received from the parties on this revised timeframe and expects the regulator to proceed mindful that the outcome of hearing of part B of Telkom’s application will have material impact on the auction process,” Mahlangu says.

Unlike its African counterparts, SA is one of the few countries that have not allocated 4G/LTE spectrum on the continent. This has forced local operators to improvise, with spectrum re-farming and carrier aggregation.

For the mobile operators, spectrum allocation will help provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services. It’s expected that the freed-up spectrum will reduce the cost of data and increase access to the internet.

Additionally, for government, a spectrum auction means a boost to the fiscus.

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