Telkom ‘hellbent’ on stalling licensing of high-demand spectrum – Icasa

Communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has blasted Telkom for once again taking it to court, a move that threatens the release of much-needed broadband frequencies in a spectrum auction that had been planned for late March this year.

TechCentral reported on Tuesday that Telkom had once again filed papers at the high court in Pretoria seeking an urgent application to stop the licensing process from proceeding.

Telkom wants the process reviewed on an urgent basis, arguing that, despite weeks of in-depth discussion with industry players – including Telkom – the invitation to apply, or ITA, remains flawed.

Read: Telkom asks court to stop spectrum auction again

“The authority is not surprised by Telkom’s relentless resort to litigation, the conduct stretching back seven years or more ago,” Icasa said in a strongly worded statement.

“Telkom appears hellbent on stalling the authority’s every effort to licence the high-demand spectrum that the sector, country and our economy so badly needs.”

Icasa said, too, that the public interest “demands that the licensing of high-demand spectrum cannot be delayed any longer”.

“Narrow and selfish commercial interests should give way to the overriding public good of cheaper data, universal access to efficient and reliable connectivity, and high-speed broadband transmission. All of this will in turn boost the post Covid-19 economic recovery which the country desperately needs,” it added.

Rushed to court

Icasa accused Telkom of rushing to court before it was even given the chance to consider the operator’s latest grievances.

It said that Telkom wrote to it on the afternoon of 31 December. It also received a letter from Vodacom, on a confidential basis, on 1 January.

Both Telkom and Vodacom raised concerns regarding the ITA process and asked Icasa to consider these concerns.

Telkom, Icasa said, demanded that Icasa respond by 4 January, failing which it would approach the court on an urgent basis for relief.

The communications regulator replied to both Telkom and Vodacom on 3 January – “the first working day of the year” – and said it would respond comprehensively by no later than 7 January “and undertook to consider the various concerns raised”.

Read: Icasa sets timetable to auction spectrum by March 2022

“Notwithstanding the authority’s undertaking to respond comprehensively by 7 January, on 4 January — the date on which Telkom had requested a response from the authority — Telkom launched what can only be seen as a pre-emptive strike by filing an urgent application with the high court to stall the ITA process and the auction intended for March 2022,” Icasa said.

“This is highly regrettable, given the authority’s commitment to expediting the auction and to delivering much-needed high-demand spectrum to the people of South Africa in March 2022 or as soon as it is practicably possible.”

“In the light of the voluminous court papers served on the authority late [on] 4 January, by Telkom, Icasa is no longer able to respond to the respective parties’ correspondence by 7 January,” it pointed out.

“It is almost both necessary and reasonable for the authority to study the court papers, consult with its lawyers, and take an informed and carefully considered decision before responding to Telkom and Vodacom’s correspondence,” it added.

Despite this, Icasa said the timetable for licensing the spectrum “remains intact”.

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Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral, where this article first appeared, here.