South Africa's Telkom asks court to stop spectrum auction again


FILE PHOTO: A sign of 5G is seen in Pudong district in Shanghai, China April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Telkom is seeking an urgent court order to prevent telecoms regulator ICASA holding a spectrum auction in March, which would further delay the country's rollout of 5G and expansion of 4G capacity already held back by legal action.

Operators have waited more than 15 years for ICASA to release spectrum licences that are needed to lower data costs and add network capacity as data demand has surged and smartphone adoption continues to grow.

A previous court ruling following separate objections from Telkom, broadcaster e.tv, and MTN Group prevented last year an auction of high-demand spectrum the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is due to hold by the end of March.

On Wednesday, Telkom said it had filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the invitation to apply, which outlines the auction rules, spectrum bands and licence obligations, published by ICASA last month.

The application includes an urgent interdict to prevent ICASA from processing any applications until the review is heard, it said in a statement.

In court papers seen by Reuters, Telkom called the contemplated auction process unlawful, illegal, irrational and unreasonable given that the invite is "tainted by a number of reviewable errors".

These errors include auctioning sub 1 Gigahertz (GHz) frequency band when it is not yet available and is the subject of a legal challenge brought by e-tv, similar to objections raised by the company last year.

Telkom says the outcome of the legal proceedings, set for hearing from March 14, will have a material impact on the availability of spectrum in this band.

Telkom is also fighting the lack of clarity around the timing in licensing a Wholesale Open Access Network, which refers to a single large network available to all mobile operators so that they do not need to build their own infrastructure.

"If allowed to stand, the (invitation) will have enduring negative consequences on the mobile market, including but not limited to reinforcing the anti-competitive structure of the mobile market," it said in court papers.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Barbara Lewis)

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