The regulator said if the parties agreed to confine themselves to matters raised in the litigation during the new round of out-of-court negotiations, the spectrum auction could happen by early 2022.
By Mfuneko Toyana • 7 September 2021
Communications regulator Icasa has ditched its legal battle with telecoms giants including MTN and Telkom that would have further delayed the auction of high-speed spectrum slots and South Africa’s sorely needed transition to faster internet speeds — and a multibillion-rand fillip for the government.
MTN and Telkom, with free-to-air broadcaster eMedia Holdings (which owns e.tv and 24-hour news channel eNCA), had launched a legal challenge against Icasa’s proposed format for the auctioning of 700MHz, 800MHz, and 2,600MHz spectrum frequencies needed by data providers to launch new-generation internet technology like 5G.
The telecoms firms went to court between 2019 and 2020 to oppose the sale of the spectrum slots via invitations to apply (ITAs), which would have seen the two market leaders prevented from participating in some of the early rounds of the auction.
Icasa and the communications ministry argued that this was necessary to allow new and smaller players to gain a foothold in the data game, but the cellphone providers saw it as unfair discrimination, leading to the deadlock.
“Icasa has now decided to consent to an order setting aside its decision to publish the Invitations To Apply (ITAs) in order to avoid a long drawn-out litigation, the effect of which would only be to delay further the licensing of high-demand spectrum and the WOAN [wireless open-access network],” the regulator said in a statement.