MTN, Telkom oppose South Africa plan on shared telco network

28 October 2016


South African operators MTN Group and Telkom said they opposed a government plan to force operators to give up their broadband spectrum and share a national network, reports Reuters. In a policy paper published in late September, the government proposed that spectrum be pooled and given to a new national wholesale open-access network operator, which would be owned by the government and the industry.

MTN, the largest mobile operator in the country, said that while it agreed with the objective of giving more of the population access to broadband services it disagreed with aspects of the plan. In short the policy suggests that mobile operators will not get any more spectrum and must hand back what they have, MTN's South African head, Mteto Nyati told Reuters. Nyati said such a scenario is untenable and unacceptable.

Creating a single open-access network is at the heart of a government goal to roll out broadband access to 80 percent of the population by 2019, by encouraging operators to compete on services rather than the quality of the network. Vodacom has yet to comment on the plan but Telkom said it opposed giving up spectrum already allocated although it favoured pooling spectrum not yet assigned.

Telkom's Chief Commercial Officer Brian Armstrong said in a statement that the fundamental problem "is you have spent millions on the network and then have to return it. We need industry engagement on this issue". Only about 40 percent of South Africans currently have access to broadband and the government says leaving infrastructure development in the hands of operator risks concentrating it on affluent areas.

The telecom regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, has been at odds with the government over the allocation of new spectrum licences. The government went to court to block an auction of licences after ICASA unexpectedly announced the sale in July. Icasa said the government's latest plan would deter investment in the industry.

Source: Telecompaper 24 October 2016