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Icasa issues final invitation to apply for March spectrum auction

The Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA/the Authority) has issued the final Invitation To Apply (ITA) in respect of the licensing process for the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum, also known as high-demand spectrum. The ITA will be published in the Government Gazette today.

The publication of the ITA follows a period of over three months of consultation undertaken by the Authority through the publication of the first and second Information Memorandum (IM) on 1 October 2021 and 15 November 2021 respectively. The consultative process was premised on the truncated timetable outlined by the Authority in terms of a notice published on 1 October 2021, following the consent order granted by the Pretoria High Court, in terms of which the Authority’s decision to publish the 2020 ITA was set aside.

In framing the current ITA, the Authority has considered the issues raised by stakeholders in their challenge to the previous licensing processes (particularly the 2020 ITA), as well as the representations received to the first and second IMs.

“The publication of the first and second IM was done to ensure that stakeholders can have a clearer preview of the intended licensing process and associated licensing conditions – and be afforded the opportunity to make representations to the Authority on what the final licensing process and conditions should entail. The Authority is grateful for the representations received, and has fully considered those views in their entirety,” says ICASA Chairperson, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

In addressing competition concerns in respect of the 2020 ITA, along with all the issues raised in the subsequent consultations through the two IMs, the Authority has provided for the auction design (in the ITA) to include, among other provisions: spectrum floors and spectrum caps, the opt-in round, and spectrum-sharing provisions. These provisions are designed to facilitate the entry of new players into the market, and to promote consumer welfare through access to high quality communication services at affordable and competitive prices.

Taking into account the ongoing broadcasting digital migration process, the Authority will make available the status of the coverage maps on the IMT700 and IMT800 spectrum bands in collaboration with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies before the commencement of the auction. Should the digital migration process not be completed by the time the auction is concluded, the Authority will apply proportional payment formulae for IMT700 and IMT800 bands.

In licensing of high-demand spectrum through this ITA, the Authority aims to ensure the realisation of many of the key policy objectives originally identified in the SA Connect Broadband Policy particularly as regards the provision of universal and affordable broadband services for all South Africans.

As outlined in the notice published on 19 November 2021, the Authority has resolved to separate the auction of high-demand spectrum and the licensing of the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN). The Authority believes that the auction will proceed seamlessly, and that the spectrum set aside for the WOAN will be licensed in due course, following the engagements with the relevant stakeholders on the licensing of the WOAN, and how it can best suit the interests of the country at large.

The Authority remains of the view that the auction model is the best method of assigning high-demand radio frequency spectrum.

“We urge all industry stakeholders to embrace this licensing process, and the auction, as this is the most open and transparent way in which spectrum will be permanently awarded. All the other provisional spectrum arrangements remain interim and will end at the stipulated and communicated dates. Furthermore, we are pleased to note the combined auction reserve prices will yield a minimum of R8 billion for the national fiscus, including enhanced obligations for the benefit of consumers and society-at-large,” adds Dr Modimoeng.

Applications are due no later than 16h00 on 31 January 2022, with the announcements of qualifying bidders and commencement of actual auction phase scheduled for 21 February 2022 and 8 March 2022 respectively. CT Bureau


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