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4G/5G

Telkom wants to stop SA spectrum auction, again

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In a case of telecom déjà vu, Telkom SA has once again headed to court to try to derail the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's (ICASA's) upcoming spectrum auction.

Telkom confirmed in an emailed statement to Connecting Africa that it has filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the spectrum "Invitations To Apply (ITA)" published by ICASA on December 10, 2021. The application includes an urgent interdict to prevent ICASA from processing any applications until the review is heard.

"Telkom has serious difficulties with ICASA's decision to again include sub 1 GHz spectrum in the intended auction. This band is currently the subject of a legal challenge brought by e-tv. The outcome of the legal proceedings, set to [be] heard starting on the 14 March 2022, will have a material impact on the availability of spectrum in this band," Telkom said.

ICASA was planning to hold the spectrum auction in March 2022, after years of delays, but is still facing a court challenge from broadcaster e-tv which is yet to be heard by the high court.

Telkom's group executive for regulatory affairs and government relations, Siyabonga Mahlangu, said that the timing of the December ITA is "ill-conceived" as the auction process does not consider the impact of the findings of the legal challenge.

Been here before

In March 2021 Telkom won a court interdict to stop ICASA's previous ITA which was published in October 2020. ICASA plans to auction high-demand spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands which operators need for 4G and 5G services.

One of Telkom's previous arguments was that the 700MHz and 800MHz spectrum is not actually available because it is still being used by analogue television broadcasters, due to the country's much-delayed digital migration process.

Mahlangu said there is also a lack of clarity around the planned Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) which is not included in the most recent ITA.

"Potential bidders like Telkom are not able to take a holistic view of the availability and conditions of access for total available spectrum before making their submissions for the auction."

ICASA decided to separate the auction of high-demand spectrum and the licensing of the WOAN - which is supposed to be a private sector-led wholesale entity.


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"We would have hoped that the withdrawal of the previous ITA and referral of the matter back to ICASA for reconsideration in terms of the court order during September 2021 would have been followed by extensive consultation to understand the challenges the previous ITAs presented and avoid repetition of these in the current version," said Mahlangu.

"Unfortunately, this did not happen and regrettably, we find ourselves in this position once again."

Mahlangu believes the issue of a competitive landscape is key for the entire sector and not only Telkom.

"The impacts of a further skewing of competition in this market, through ill-considered licensing of spectrum, will be long lasting and negatively affect the availability of services and prices to consumers," he concluded.

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*Top image source: Background photo created by jcomp - www.freepik.com.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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