Minister sues to stop South African auction

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

South African telecoms minister sues regulator to block auction until open access policy is defined

South Africa’s telecoms minister, Siyabonga Cwele, is suing the country’s regulator to block a broadband spectrum auction, claiming the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is usurping the government’s policy-making role.

Cwele, who is Minister of Postal and Telecommunications Services, was planning to issue a white paper that would have called for an open access spectrum, designed to stimulate competition and encourage new companies into the market.

Icasa had already seen a draft of the white paper, but nevertheless issued its invitation to apply for spectrum in a forthcoming auction, in a process that would run counter to Cwele’s plans.

The regulator split the spectrum on offer into five packages, with a reserve bidding price of 3 billion rand ($225 million) for each bundle.

The ministry said in a statement: “The position of government is that it is the custodian of spectrum which is a national and public resource and whose utilisation must benefit all the people of South Africa. There is presently no policy direction on spectrum that has been issued. The policy process is ongoing but as yet still incomplete.”

It added: “The minister is concerned that Icasa’s invitation to apply for the auctioning of the spectrum was issued without consultation and prior notification to government as the policy maker. A further concern is the haste with which Icasa is proceeding to dispose of the spectrum given that this spectrum will not be immediately available.”

The regulator responded that it “has no intention to enter into a media debate with the minister or any of the stakeholders about the correctness of its decision, suffice to say that the authority believes that it has, in making this decision, adhered to all the requirements as prescribed in terms of the current applicable laws.”

The spectrum that Icasa was planning to auction was in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.