internet sign
Internet sign. Photo by Leon Seibert on Unsplash

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is now changing gears and informing operators that the auction for the high-demand spectrum will be completed no later than 31 March 2021. That’s noteworthy considering the regulator promised to auction the 4G and 5G spectrum by 31 December 2020.

None of this is all that surprising, however, mainly because the goalpost has been shifted several times by the regulator and government.

ICASA announced today that the Invitation To Apply (ITA) for both the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) and the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum, also known as high demand spectrum will be published no later than 30 September 2020.

The regulator first highlighted the delay on 02 July 2020. The delay was occasioned by, among others; the prioritisation of the release of the Covid-19 emergency spectrum, the additional considerations particularly on the viability of the WOAN as well as the fact that ICASA was almost inquorate for a period close to three months.

“The publication of the two ITAs shows the Authority’s commitment to its plans of releasing spectrum in the 2020/21 financial year,” said ICASA.

“In light of the time lost as a result of the delay in the issuing of the ITAs, the auction of the high demand spectrum which was originally contemplated to take place during December 2020, will be completed by no later than 31 March 2021.”

In line with its processes in the development of the ITAs, the Authority considered and analysed all representations received in response to the Information Memorandum (IM).

To this end, a reasons document capturing ICASA’s positions on the received comments will be published concurrently with the ITA.

The key considerations emanating from the representations into the IM include the following:

  • The development of various empowerment obligations to be imposed on the successful bidders in the auction process including a requirement to support Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO’s);
  • The requirement for successful bidders to support the WOAN through procurement of a minimum 30% national capacity;
  • The imposition of empowerment obligations on the WOAN in order to ensure that it is a credible empowerment tool that will assist the Authority to achieve the sector’s transformation agenda; and
  • The structuring and framing of the lots in a manner that balances the objective to promote effective competition, facilitate new entrants and raise revenue for the fiscus.

“ICASA has also completed a process to determine the fair economic value of the five spectrum bands that will be made available for auction and spectrum that will be made available to the WOAN taking into consideration the current state of competition in the South African market”, says ICASA Chairperson, Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng.

The two ITAs are being finalised for issuance with due consideration of the Ministerial Policy/Policy Directions as issued by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies in line with section 3(4) of the ECA.

“The delicate nature of the licensing process requires that the Authority exercise added caution to ensure full compliance with all administrative and procedural fairness requirements. It is also of significance that the ultimate outcome of the process receives the buy-in and support from all interested stakeholders. We appeal to stakeholders to adhere to the aforementioned deadline in order to avoid any further delays to the process”, concludes Dr. Modimoeng.

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