Vodacom/Vodafone is reported to have also joined the lawsuit filed by Telkom aimed at stopping South African communications regulator, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from taking back temporarily assigned spectrum at the end of November.
MTN was first to join the lawsuit day’s after Telkom filed it at the High Court of Pretoria on October 6, 2021. Vodacom’s court application, means South Africa’s three largest telecommunications operators have united to take on the industry regulator.
A Vodacom spokesman is reported to have confirmed that the company has lodged a supporting affidavit with the court “regarding Telkom’s urgent interdict to prevent ICASA from withdrawing temporary spectrum”.
In April last year, ICASA released emergency spectrum to interested telcos for a fee amid the rising data consumption due to Covid-19. It however informed the telcos that the spectrum will be taken back on November 30, this year after extending the deadline several time. The other reason was to prevent the situation where the beneficiary telcos get undue advantage over those who did not apply for it.
But the telcos have argued that the spectrum is fully in use as the burden of Covid-19 still remains, and taking it back would disrupt services and harm consumers.
“The main thrust of our argument is that while Covid and the effects of Covid are still with us, the temporary spectrum cannot be withdrawn,” the Vodacom spokesman said.
MTN has also launched separate action challenging aspects of the decision.
MTN, for instance, provided more details about the reasons for its court action, saying that “Since the start of the pandemic, the demand for data on MTN’s network alone has increased by 165% and that demand is not abating, despite the much-decreased Covid-19 infection numbers.
“The temporary frequencies assigned to operators and paid for has been critical in meeting the data traffic surge, and without these frequencies, the networks would not have been able to provide reliable and resilient network quality, under current Covid-19 protocols where many people continue to work from home. The withdrawal of the temporary spectrum will also pose a significant risk to lower income South Africans, students and learners who are benefiting from free access.”
“MTN had hoped to resolve this matter outside of the courts, but with the November deadline looming we believe it is imperative we act to protect the millions of South Africans that have become so dependent on fast and stable data services. If an opportunity still exists to resolve the matter out of court, MTN remains open and constructive to that option.”
In spite of all the explanation about the possible consequence, ICASA has has sworn to fight Telkom etal in court over the spectrum withdrawal decision.
The high court is expected to hear the matter on 26 October.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, emergency spectrum given to two telcos, MTN and Vodafone in April 2020 for free, still remains with them, even though the temporary period was for three months, ending July 2021. There have been hints that government is planning to take it back, but the industry players gave said that would be counterproductive.
An industry expert with deep knowledge about regulations agrees with the industry players and has suggested that the regulator should rather focus on looking for new emergency spectrum to keep, in case of unforeseen circumstances in the future, instead of seeking to take back what is obviously in full use now.