COVID-19: ICASA processing applications for the assignment of emergency temporary spectrum licenses

The announcement of the National State of Disaster on 15 March 2020 has driven up the demand for ICT services and has essentialised the need for access to high-speed and affordable broadband internet. Businesses have become increasingly reliant on virtual platforms to facilitate remote working, virtual classrooms are being established to ensure students stay on track with year’s curriculum, citizens and businesses need access to updated information to stay abreast of developments of the global pandemic.

To deal with the increase in demand for ICT services, ICASA announced that it would publish the ICT National State of Disaster Regulations which, amongst other things, provides for the temporary release of high demand spectrum (HDS) for the duration of the National State of Disaster. Licensees were called to apply for spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3500Mhz bands by 9 April 2020. ICASA is said to have received 35 applications from prospective licensees. Spectrum assignments under this process will be revoked 3 months after the termination of the National State of Disaster.

Licenses will be assigned to applicants who are able to:

  • provide the network performance report before the COVID-19 outbreak with the currently assigned spectrum holding;
  • Provide the current network performance;
  • Indicate the Areas that are highly constrained;
  • Provide the network projections during the national lockdown;
  • Indicate the band they require access to and the bandwidth required (For the immediate use only);
  • Provide the modelled network performance with the additional spectrum they require; and
  • Provide benefits to be realized by the consumers (i.e. reduced data prices, free daily bundle to all the customers, wi-fi connectivity etc.),

Licensees will not be required to pay any prescribed fee for the identified bands. In addition to issuing temporary licenses, the ICT Disaster regulations make provision for spectrum sharing to alleviate network capacity challenges.

Successful licensees will be obliged to send their subscribers at least two public announcements per day in relation to the prevention and management of Covid19 as well as notifications of all announcements by the Minister of Health or the Presidency by way of free SMSes. The Regulations also make provision for the connection of district virtual classroom platforms to support virtual teaching for the duration of the COVID -19 National Disaster and for all Electronic Communications Service and Electronic Communication Network Services licensees to zero rate all COVID-19 sites.

 

Prior to the outbreak, ICASA made a call for submissions in response to its Information Memorandum (IM) on the licencing process for the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) Spectrum Assignment, 2019 through an auction as well as the assignment of spectrum to be set aside for the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN). ICASA has indicated that the issuing of temporary license will in no way impact the permanent licensing process currently underway. Seemingly, the temporary licensing process does not prioritise any pro-competitive or empowerment policy considerations. ICASA has undertaken to ensure that there are no irreversible anti-competitive effects through this process.

Jac Marais
Partner | Commercial Attorney
Nalo Gungubele
Associate | Attorney