Vodacom, Rain join MTN in opposing Telkom's urgent interdict against Icasa
Telecoms companies Vodacom and Rain will oppose Telkom’s urgent interdict that seeks to stop the regulator Icasa from issuing permanent radio frequency spectrum licences.
This comes hot on the heels of a similar decision by MTN, which on Friday announced its intentions to also oppose Telkom.
Last week Telkom announced that it has launched a new court bid to interdict the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) from proceeding with the invitation to apply for spectrum, which was set to be allocated through an auction process by the end of March.
The urgent interdict sought by Telkom and also the court case by e.tv against the ministry of communications and digital technologies over the digital migration process, have raised concerns both matters could further delay the permanent licensing of the spectrum, which is behind by about 10 years.
In responding to Business Times' questions, Vodacom’s spokesperson Byron Kennedy said on Tuesday that “Vodacom can confirm that it filed notice yesterday afternoon to oppose part A of Telkom’s court application.”
Part A deals with the urgent interdict to stop Icasa from proceeding with auctioning the spectrum.
Kennedy said Vodacom remains “committed to an expedited and fair spectrum auction process”.
Rain’s CEO Brandon Leigh said on Tuesday the “industry needs to address concerns via good faith discussions and negotiations, not the courts”.
Leigh said last week that Rain supports “Icasa in getting spectrum permanently licensed on a pro-competitive basis without further delay”.
Other telecoms companies, including Cell C and Liquid Intelligent Technologies, are also in support of the speedy allocation of radio frequency spectrum, saying any further delays will impact on the economy.
On Friday, MTN slammed Telkom’s court action, saying the industry cannot have a repeat of 2021, where the entire process was delayed for another full year, and that on the back of 14 years of no additional spectrum being added to the industry.
MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi said a successful spectrum auction has the capacity to not only release much-needed funds into the national fiscus, but it would have an immediate impact on consumers.
“The regulator’s allocation of temporary spectrum is evidence of this point, in that data prices have continued to fall, making data even more accessible,” he said.
“At MTN, the extra capacity has meant we’ve been able to provide more than 4-million people access to free health and education websites each month, and we’ve been able to reach deeper into small towns, and particularly rural communities, that were previously underserviced because of lack of the required spectrum.
“Right now, 96% of South Africans have access to the internet through MTN’s 4G network coverage.”
After Covid-19 hit the country at the end of March 2020, Icasa in April that year allocated temporary spectrum after the government's declaration of the national state of disaster. It was anticipated that there would be high demand for internet access as people worked from home and also for online learning, as pupils and students were unable to go to school.
The temporary agreement was renewed a number of times, with the latest being in December and valid for seven months or three months after the termination of the national state of disaster — whichever comes first.
Molapisi said throughout last year, MTN consistently worked with the regulator to avoid further delays in the spectrum process — “hence the very narrow focus of the company’s 2021 court challenge, but the time for action is now”.
Dobek Pater, director for business development at Africa Analysis, said last week that further delays to the allocation of the permanent spectrum would disadvantage the operators as they would be unable to proceed with the densification (further deployment) of 4G and 5G networks.
However, the operators have also put in place partnerships between themselves to use the spectrum already available to some of the small companies.
“The impact on the economy is not known, as the overall impact of 4G and 5G on the economy has not been quantified. However, it is safe to assume that the greater availability of high-demand spectrum and the consequent infrastructure deployment would have a positive impact on the economy,” he said.
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