Icasa’s plan to auction high-speed broadband spectrum may be scuppered if the high court finds in favour of a challenge to the lawfulness of the auction. Picture: THE TIMES
Icasa’s plan to auction high-speed broadband spectrum may be scuppered if the high court finds in favour of a challenge to the lawfulness of the auction. Picture: THE TIMES

The department of communications says it is aiming to finalise the policy directive on licensing high-demand spectrum by the end of April.

The high cost to communicate in SA has largely been blamed on a lack of competition and the "spectrum crunch". Spectrum refers to the radio signals set aside to carry data over the air, including for mobile phones, TV and global positioning systems (GPSs).

This is a limited resource largely controlled by the government. The release of additional spectrum will be key in terms of diversifying and boosting competition in telecommunications sector, and reducing the cost of data.

In a statement on Thursday, the department said the move to finalise spectrum allocation was in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to “initiate the process for the allocation of high-demand radio spectrum to enable licensing” as part of the economic stimulus and economic recovery plan.

In his state of the nation address in February, Ramaphosa indicated that the communications minister would issue a policy direction to the communications regulator, Icasa, for the licensing of the high-demand radio frequency spectrum. This was reiterated in the budget speech by finance minister Tito Mboweni, who further mentioned that “this includes resourcing Icasa for this mandate”.

“To this end, minister [Stella] Ndabeni-Abrahams has extensively engaged Icasa with regard to the aforementioned policy directive,” the department said.

“Further, and to ensure that the regulator is adequately resourced to effectively conduct the spectrum licensing process once the policy directive is issued, the [department]has reprioritised its finances and transferred R10m to Icasa. These funds will provide for the requisite additional human and financial resources that will be borne by the regulator.”

The department said in order to ensure an inclusive approach, the minister invited sector stakeholders to provide written submissions on their interpretation of the definition of the spectrum licensing process. A meeting with the stakeholders is scheduled for the beginning of April to further deliberate on the submissions and finalise the consultations.

According to the 2019 Budget Review, "progress has been made on growth-enhancing reforms, including preparations to allocate telecoms spectrum, reform visa requirements and remove barriers to mining investments.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za