South Africa suffers regular electricity load shedding, where local power supplies are cut during heavy demand. Now the country’s business leaders are arguing with regulator ICASA that much the same risks apply to spectrum bandwidth.
Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) head Busi Mavuso said that if ICASA proceeds with its plan to take back temporarily allocated spectrum, it will be tantamount to creating “digital load shedding”.
On August 30th, ICASA again extended the allocation of emergency temporary spectrum but warned that the latest three-month extension period would be the last. While some telco operators have used the spectrum to launch local 5G services most made use of the spectrum to boost services in areas where people were working from home.
ICASA in its response says it has resolved that the temporary radio frequency spectrum assigned to licensees and will now have to be returned to the authority by no later November 30th.
However, critics suggest that ICASA’s plans to mount an auction of the same spectrum next year has already been scrubbed, and thus there’s little pressure to return the bandwidth to government.
Mavuso says the government has encouraged people to work and study from home during the pandemic. “That won’t be possible if ICASA withdraws the temporary spectrum. That means all of us will be forced to go back to the office,” she said.
In a statement posted on BLSA’s website, Mavuso said the temporary spectrum allocation has been “absolutely critical to minimising the impact of lockdowns and the pandemic. The spectrum has also been very important for the economy – it has enabled a great many people to continue working from home. It would have been impossible for people to remain connected without it and many more jobs would have been lost. Instead, the call centre industry, one of the real success stories of our country over the last year and half, was able to create jobs during the pandemic.”