South Africa’s Telkom and ICASA at loggerheads – again

South Africa’s Telkom and ICASA at loggerheads – again

The ongoing dispute over the planned withdrawal of temporary spectrum in South Africa looks set to continue after the regulator ICASA announced its plans to take on operator Telkom and its objections to the end of the temporary spectrum scheme.

Telkom has announced that it hopes to stop the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from withdrawing temporary radio frequency spectrum given out at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak last year, suggesting it could have a “catastrophic" impact on its network performance and also on its customers. It has therefore filed papers asking the High Court to set aside ICASA's decision.

The temporary spectrum has, not surprisingly, turned out to be very popular with operators at a time when much of the population has been forced to stay – and often work – at home. As a consequence customers have used a lot more data, for which the extra spectrum proved very helpful, allowing mobile operators to deliver faster connectivity to customers.

But ICASA doesn’t want this situation to continue indefinitely. After twice extending the deadline it said in August that operators must return the bandwidth by the end of November.

As Reuters points out, ICASA has said more than once that it was never its intention to assign the spectrum on a long-term or semi-permanent basis or to perpetuate what it suggests might become “an anti-competitive, unfair and unjust spectrum licensing regime, under the guise of pandemic relief”.

This isn’t the only court case ICASA is involved in. Telkom and fellow operator MTN also have objections to ICASA’s plans to auction permanent high-frequency spectrum – including 5G-capable spectrum. It looks like it could be some time before South African end users get the lower cost and higher performance that many hope new spectrum will bring.

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