Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is talking to the regulator and mobile operators to find an amicable solution to the legal battle around temporary spectrum.
The minister’s intervention comes after Telkom, MTN, and Vodacom have launched legal action against the regulator’s decision to take back the temporary spectrum.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) assigned temporary radio frequency spectrum to operators at the start of South Africa’s national state of disaster.
This spectrum, Icasa said, was needed to help network operators cope with the surge in demand for data during the Covid–19 lockdown.
The regulator recently announced the temporary spectrum would have to be returned by no later than 30 November 2021.
This announcement did not sit well with most mobile operators, which highlighted that the demand for data is higher than ever.
Should they have to give back their temporary spectrum, it will impact the quality of service on their networks and may even lead to price increases.
Telkom, MTN, and Vodacom have subsequently launched a legal challenge to Icasa’s plan, arguing that the temporary spectrum must remain in place for the duration of South Africa’s Covid-19 national state of disaster.
Icasa has vowed to fight the court case that Telkom and others filed to block it from taking back the emergency radio frequency spectrum.
“Icasa believes that the circumstances and considerations that informed the issuing of the radio frequency spectrum at the onset of the pandemic never contemplated that the spectrum would be licensed on a long-term or semi-permanent basis,” the regulator said.
“The Authority will therefore be derelict in its duty if it were, by default, to perpetuate what is now becoming an anti-competitive, unfair, and unjust spectrum licensing regime, under the guise of pandemic relief.”
With the court battle looming, the Department of Communications & Digital Technologies will now intervene in the matter.
Department of Communications spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the minister is engaging with all parties to find an amicable solution in the spectrum standoff.
“The department’s view is that the courts should be an option of last resort to be explored only in the event all other efforts do not yield desirable outcomes,” the Sunday Times quoted him as saying.