Q&A With Communications Authority Director-General Mercy Wanjau

December 14, 2020

Communications Authority of Kenya acting Director-General Mercy Wanjau fielded questions from the public via Sunday Nation.

Online learning is slowly taking shape to help mitigate Covid-19 challenges. However, some internet service providers are providing exploitative data access to learning institutions, students and teachers who are in desperate situations. How can the regulator salvage this situation? Komen Moris, Eldoret

The Authority has licensed many Internet Service Providers, according consumers with choice. Competition has also served to drive up the quality of the services at reduced prices. Indeed Kenya is among the three African countries with the lowest cost of the Internet.

To assist mobile operators and other licensees cope with the increased demand, the Authority has, where necessary, allocated licensees with additional frequencies to augment their capacity.

It is also important to note that the ICT market segment in Kenya is fully liberalised, which means that the laws of supply and demand dictate the cost of services. Therefore, the Authority only deals with interconnection and wholesale tariffs but not the retail prices charged.

To protect the interests of users of ICT services, the Authority monitors the quality of services offered to ensure consumers get value for money. I would, therefore, advise consumers, be they individuals or corporates, to leverage the wide choice of service providers to secure services only from firms that offer quality and value for money.

In layman’s language, what will be the most noticeable difference between 5G and 4G? Boniface Otieno, Naivasha

With 5G networks, Kenyans should expect faster data speeds and improved network efficiency. The 5G technologies will also lead to an increase in the number of connected devices ranging from wearables, smart meters to smart home applications. Indeed 5G will support Kenya’s transition to a fully digital economy.

The three major differences between 4G and 5G mobile technologies are faster speeds (large files can be downloaded in shorter times), higher bandwidths, and lower latency or lag time in communication between devices and servers.

5G is expected to be nearly 100 times faster than 4G. 5G will, for instance, enable download of a two-hour film in fewer than 10 seconds compared with seven minutes on 4G. The higher bandwidth will be very useful for Internet of Things (Machine to Machine communications).

READ: Everything to Know About the 5G Network With 20Gb/s Minimum Download Speed

 Many independent broadcasters are struggling to break even. Why would CA continue granting frequencies to such small entities? And what stops these independent broadcasters from selling the frequencies they hold? Aslam Abdi, telecommunications expert, Nairobi

Digital migration has enabled diversity in TV broadcasting, with some channels now specialising in niche programming and thus catering to the varied needs of diverse communities and language groups.

Currently, CA has licensed over 200 TV channels, including national, regional and community stations, targeting different audiences. To survive in a competitive market, broadcasters must relook at their business models in view of the ever-changing audience preferences. The broadcasting market will continue to evolve, and CA will continue to issue licences and frequencies as mandated by law to ensure diversity.

It is important to note that a frequency assignment does not in any way confer ownership rights to broadcasters. They neither own nor have any rights to sell assigned frequencies. A broadcast frequency is a scarce public resource that is assigned to an entity for specific use under specific terms and conditions for specified period. It cannot, therefore, be transferred without the CA’s authorisation.

We are talking of 5G era when several parts of this country have not even experienced 4G. Isn’t CA enhancing unfairness? Alinoor Haji, Rhamu Mandera County

We acknowledge that there are still some areas of the country that are yet to be connected to ICT services. Making available communications services throughout the country is a progressive exercise that requires huge financial investment. As indicated above, the Authority is making tremendous gains in facilitating universal access to ICT services through the mechanism of the Universal Service Fund (USF) as well as through licence obligations vested on mobile operators.  I have no doubt that we shall ultimately avail communication services in every part of the country, and thus close the digital divide.

We continue receiving ‘tuma kwa hii namba’ messages from conmen. Is it possible that the use of unregistered SIM cards is going on? Githuku Mungai, Nairobi

The Authority has issued new SIM card registration guidelines that provide a clear approach in ensuring that no unregistered SIM card is used on the communication networks in the country. Mobile service providers have an obligation to abide by these guidelines and ensure no unregistered SIM cards are in use on their respective networks. Consumers also have an obligation to provide accurate information at the point of registration. The Authority undertakes regular compliance checks to ensure the operators follow these regulations.

 Recruitment of a substantive director-general has become the Authority’s Achilles heel and you have been acting in the position for a year and four months now, which in itself is not a good sign of good corporate governance. Attempts to conduct the recruitment have been thwarted by the courts. Do you think the courts have been fair to the Authority on this front? Joy K. Wandera, Nairobi

The CA Director-General plays an important role in the day-to-day operations of the Authority, and in exercising regulatory oversight on the ICT sector. The position, therefore, is bound to attract a lot of attention and interest from different quarters. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Authority’s leadership succession process more often than not ends up in court.

Court processes are usually complex, technical and in most instances unpredictable in terms of how long they take, particularly during this Covid-19 season.

That said, I am positive that the courts appreciate the importance of the Authority in the regulation of this strategic sector. We expect the courts to make a timely decision on the matter, to enable progress in the recruitment process.

 How many television and radio operators have so far been awarded licences to carry out their businesses in the country, and is there a capacity that once attained then you will not be able to license others? Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi

The Authority has to date licensed 107 FM radio stations and 206 free-to-air TV stations.

In terms of capacity, we need to understand two aspects. First, FM radio broadcasting licences are limited to the availability of broadcast frequencies. For TV, the number of channels is limited to the capacity on the licensed broadcast signal distributor. Once the broadcast frequencies are exhausted in a particular broadcast area, it is not possible to license any more.

Secondly, for broadcasting services that do not require frequency spectrum such as cable television, there is no limit other than viability of the business. It is the responsibility of a prospective broadcaster to demonstrate the viability of their business at the license application stage through their business plan. If an applicant is able to demonstrate that their business is viable in an area where there are multiple players, they will be licensed provided they meet the other mandatory licensing rules.

 The fake news menace is a problem everywhere and Kenya is no exception. What are some practical tools that CA is deploying to combat fake news in the country? How effective have they been? Lydia Odero, Siaya

Fake news is an issue of global concern, which Kenya is grappling with. Fake news is information created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers with the aim of shaping their opinion on a particular issue.

The Covid-19 period has witnessed an unprecedented spike in fake news globally. CA is working with other regulators, including the Media Council of Kenya, to educate consumers on identifying fake news. We encourage consumer to always verify the source of the news. This may include checking whether reputable media organisations have published such news. A healthy dose of scepticism is encouraged when consuming information online, and exercise caution before sharing any unverified information.

From an online security perspective, the Authority is charged with the responsibility of securing Kenya’s cyber space. We are currently hosting the Kenya Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre (National KE-CIRT/CC), which is the national cyber-crime management trusted point of contact.

The KE-CIRT/CC receives and analyses cyber threats and advises institutions on how to strengthen their systems against any possible attacks. The team undertakes 24-hour surveillance of Kenya’s cyber space and has been instrumental in co-ordinating collective efforts to safeguard the security of IT systems in the country. Members of the public are, therefore, advised to contact the National KE-CIRT/CC via the email address [email protected] or through the dedicated 24/7 hotlines +254-703-042700/+254-730-172700, to report such incidences or seek advice on cyber security.

Kenya is yet to make good strides in mobile penetration especially in far-flung and hilly areas, which remain uncovered due to poor or lack of the necessary supporting infrastructure of mobile companies. How do you plan to deploy and use the Universal Service Charge to mitigate in this matter? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

The Universal Service Fund was established to facilitate services in un-served and underserved parts of the country. Through the Fund, we have so far facilitated the roll out of mobile connectivity in 68 sub- locations across the country that until recently had no access to ICT services.

The Authority has already issued tenders to facilitate the roll out of mobile voice network in 110 additional sub-locations in the current financial year. We are also exploring additional partnerships to seal all the existing voice and other ICT access gaps in the country.

Taita Taveta County seems to have been forgotten in the issuance of radio frequencies. Most broadcasting companies tell us CA has not been issuing them with frequencies for radio and TV for our region. Even the mobile network is poor. What can CA do in such a case? John Mwakoma, Voi

The Authority has licensed 15 commercial broadcasting stations in Taita Taveta County that are actively broadcasting from Vuria to the surrounding areas. Clearly, Taita Taveta has not been forgotten at all.

Digital television frequencies are still available for Taita Taveta and have not yet been exhausted. Individuals and firms interested in establishing TV stations in the county are, therefore, encouraged to apply for licences.

In terms of mobile network connectivity, the Authority is facilitating services to un-served and underserved regions of this county and other regions of the country, through the mechanism of the Universal Service Fund (USF).

 I personally fully participated in your Authority’s public awareness and sensitisation campaigns of Chukua Hatua and Kikao Kikuu and in these I was privileged to visit your offices nearly 10 times for follow up by end of last year. But it was clear from these campaigns that big information gap exists and the public still requires a big deal of education on their rights. Due to the existing lack of information on customer rights and protection in this sector, do you plan to re-embark on the same, may be next year,  for the public good? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

We are glad that you have had an opportunity to attend the Authority’s consumer education programmes and follow up on our consumer outreach activities. Indeed the Authority acknowledges the information, knowledge and skills gap that still exists. In this regard, we are committed to continue empowering consumers with the requisite information to make informed decisions in the market.

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has constrained physical events and the Authority is currently focusing on initiatives that leverage technology and initiatives of our various partners. We intend to resume the physical consumer education and outreach activities in the counties as soon as the pandemic is effectively suppressed.

The Authority is also in the process of redesigning the consumer education programmes so as to reach out to more consumers at a lower cost. We look forward to your continued participation and engagement.

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