South Africa: 3 telcos withdraw lawsuit against regulator


Telkom, Vodacom and MTN have withdrawn their legal action against communications regulator Icasa over the planned withdrawal of temporarily assigned spectrum at the end of this month.

The operators and Icasa had been set for a showdown in the high court in Pretoria on Monday and Tuesday. This will now not happen. Telkom has, however, said that it will argue for costs against “opposing respondents” at a later date to be determined by the court, according to legal correspondence seen by TechCentral.

Vodacom withdrew its application on Friday, while MTN South Africa spokeswoman Jacqui O’Sullivan told TechCentral on Saturday that the company “will request the matter to be removed from the court roll and that costs be reserved”.

Rain, which opposed the Telkom application — warning in its court papers that Telkom was trying to license spectrum via the back door and saying that if the company was successful in securing an interdict against Icasa, there could be permanent harm done to competition in the industry — also said it would withdraw. “We support Icasa’s decision to open the application process for provisional spectrum and we will be applying,” CEO Brandon Leigh told TechCentral on Saturday.

The decision by South Africa’s three largest mobile operators follows Icasa’s decision to license what it calls “provisional” spectrum from 1 December until a long-delayed spectrum auction – now expected in 2022 – can take place.

Reports said Icasa CEO Willington Ngwepe wrote to the CEOs of the six big infrastructure operators in South Africa – Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Cell C, Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Rain – requesting an online meeting with them to discuss the provisional spectrum proposal. That meeting went well, according to sources with knowledge of the closed-door discussions.

Icasa believes that providing access to provisional spectrum — instead of temporary spectrum — in terms of which operators must again apply for access, will create a fairer competitive environment. This is because some operators didn’t apply for spectrum – or applied for only a minimal amount – when it was made available at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. The temporary spectrum was meant to alleviate the pressures placed on the mobile networks due to work-from-home requirements and the increased demand on their infrastructure.

Icasa is now expected to complete the licensing of the provisional spectrum by the end of November, in time to allocate it before the temporary spectrum assignments expire. It will then move to license the spectrum permanently through an auction process sometime next year.

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