Why the Supreme Court stopped the spectrum auction in South Africa

Supreme Court Justice Selby Baqwa stopped the radio spectrum auction planned by the communications authority Icasa earlier this month because he believed the process to be illegal and irrational.

Baqwa passed a resolution on Monday prohibiting Icasa from continuing the auction until a hearing was held on the telecommunications operator Telkom and the broadcaster e.tv. The reasons for his decision were not included in the order that was split at the time.

At the heart of the dispute is Icasa’s decision to offer the 700 MHz and 800 MHz frequency bands currently used by television broadcasters for auction before the conversion of broadcasting services from analog to digital is complete. The migration frees up the spectrum that is urgently needed for mobile network operators.

Icasa’s change of posture is equivalent to using a slang term, switching horses in the middle of the stream … and illegal

Icasa argued in court last month that cellular operators could share the bands with the broadcasters immediately after the auction. But Baqwa said in its ruling that IcasaC contradicted itself for saying in December that the availability of these bands would be delayed and made contingent on the migration’s completion.

Ultimately, once the process began, Icasa changed the rules without notice to the parties concerned or appropriate consultation, which was unfair and irrational, Baqwa said. “Icasa’s change of posture is equivalent to using a slang term, switching horses in the middle of the stream … and illegal.”

“In fact impossible”

In their affidavit, the E.tv experts argued that it was “factually impossible” to share frequencies with mobile network operators, as this would disrupt the broadcast signal and impair commercial exclusivity.

Baqwa also criticized Icasa for failing to conduct a competitive assessment that would have helped formulate rules for the award of spectrum licenses needed to reduce data costs, expand 4G capacity and introduce the new 5G technology.

On Tuesday, Icasa said it would appeal the court order to stop the auction. – Reported by Nqobile Dludla, (c) 2021 Reuters

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