The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has been forced to rethink its position on the conditions imposed on bidders in its upcoming WiMAX spectrum auction. One of the main issues of concern is that ICASA had stated that any companies wishing to take part in the process must have a minimum of 51% of equity held by black South Africans, but this has led to a chorus of disapproval. The traditional white-owned major players would be excluded, while the high black equity demand could also deter foreign investors as they are unlikely to back a new entrant in a sector dominated by Telkom, MWeb, Internet Solutions and the cellular operators.
UniNet is one of the possible bidders that does meet the black equity demand being 65%-black owned, but it too has problems with ICASA’s proposals in their current form. Its major concern is that the licences only grant 20MHz of spectrum which is too little bandwidth to offer a wide range of voice, data and video services. It argues that operators need at least 30MHz.
At present ICASA is not relaxing its conditions but has opened the matter up for comment. Spokesperson Sekgoela Sekgoela declined to confirm if the comments to be submitted by 11 August could lead to a change in the conditions saying, ‘we want to gauge what the industry thinks about them’, but it seems likely the volume of petitions they receive could force a rethink.