South Africa’s auction of broadband spectrum will take place next month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his state of the nation address at the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday evening, despite litigation brought by Telkom that threatens to scupper the process.
The president also said it is “unacceptable” that the interlinked process of migrating broadcasters from analogue to digital terrestrial television has still not been completed.
“Our communications regulator, Icasa, will commence with the process of auctioning the communications spectrum in about three weeks from now,” Ramaphosa declared. “This will unlock new spectrum for mobile telecommunications for the first time in over a decade.
His remarks come despite Telkom’s urgent court application, which will be heard in April – after the auction has taken place – in which the partially state-owned company wants Icasa’s invitation to apply for spectrum set aside and reviewed. If Telkom is successful in this review, it is likely to throw the licensing process into disarray.
Ramaphosa made no reference to the Telkom litigation, or the separate but interlinked lawsuit brought by e.tv parent eMedia Holdings against communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. E.tv wants the digital migration project delayed by 15 months, arguing that it’s being rushed – despite it being more than a decade behind schedule – and that this could hurt its commercial interests. The eMedia matter is set to be heard by the high court starting on 8 March.
The president said the switch-off of analogue transmissions has already taken place in five provinces, though he neglected to point out that this is only of the SABC’s signals, not of e.tv’s. This means that full analogue switch-off in these provinces has still not taken place.
“As I announced in the state of the nation address last year, the other provinces will move to the digital signal by the end of March 2022,” Ramaphosa said. “I have seen the joy our people have when they gain access to digital [broadcasts] and have the pleasure to watch television which is clear, which has many more stations, and this we are going to continue doing.”
At the same time, Ramaphosa announced that government will facilitate the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure (meaning fibre) across all municipalities in South Africa “by establishing a standard model for the granting of municipal permissions”, or way leaves.
This move is likely to be widely welcomed by fibre network operators, which are frequently frustrated by different rules in different towns and cities that make it difficult to roll-out infrastructure.
“These reforms will revolutionise the country’s technological development, making faster broadband accessible to more people, but more importantly reducing the cost of digital communications,” the president said.