Spectrum Management

Spectrum: Broadcaster To Join Lawsuit Against Spectrum Auction In South Africa

According to reports, E.tv, a commercial free-to-air broadcaster in South Africa, has filed an urgent application to join Telkom's lawsuit seeking an interim interdict preventing regulator authority ICASA from going through with its planned broadband spectrum auction.

EMedia Investments, the owner of e.tv, filed court papers, earlier this week, requesting an "intervention application" in support of the Telkom suit, cautioning that if ICASA goes ahead with licensing the "digital dividend" spectrum bands at 700MHz and 800MHz, it will be directly discriminatory.

E.tv uses the digital dividend bands that ICASA plans to auction to telecommunications operators at the end of March 2021. They argue that if access to the bands is auctioned, there is a real risk that mobile networks will begin using the spectrum, causing interference to its terrestrial analogue broadcasts and thus harming its business.
In December 2020, the telecoms giant, Telkom had filed papers similar to the high court seeking an interdict to stop the regulating authority from proceeding with the spectrum licensing process.

One of Telkom's primary concern is that ICASA issued the invitation to apply (ITAs) for spectrum knowing that the 700MHz and 800MHz bands are the digital dividend bands used by analogue television broadcasters – are not yet available for use by telecoms operators.  Despite all of this, the regulator is going ahead with the licensing of these bands and will expect payment for them despite the inability by successful applicants to use them.

According to an affidavit by Antonio Sergio Lee, eMedia Investments' chief operating officer, Icasa did not engage or consult with e.tv about its decision to auction the spectrum that their analogue broadcast depends on. He added that "Icasa's failure to do so has resulted in a decision that is shot through with procedural irrationality." This decision by Icasa has led e.tv to rally behind Telkom's application for an interim interdict, Lee said. "Unless this court acts now to stop the auction from occurring, it will be too late to undo the harm which is caused to e.tv, Telkom, the public and to the rule of law on account of Icasa's conduct. Once the spectrum has been sold, bidders will have bid at the relevant reserve prices, and expectations will have been set."

E.tv has 95 terrestrial transmitter sites across the country. Of these, 29 broadcast analogue signals in the digital dividend bands (above 694MHz). "The sale of the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands will give rise to an interference (or potential interference) in e.tv's offerings," Lee said.

"Once the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands are sold at auction, this will send a message to the market (and advertisers in particular) that e.tv's services are precarious – contrary to the digital migration policy and the regulations, which aim to ensure the security of operations to the analogue operators, including e.tv.

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