Published on March 25, 2008, 12:00 am
The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) is under the spotlight over what appear to be double standards in the regulation of telecommunications.
Of concern is the CCK’s heavy involvement in a submarine fibre-optic cable system designed to connect the east African region to the world’s communication backbone.
This global link is expected to lower the country’s cost of bandwidth and eventually reduce communication budgets.
To achieve such a noble objective, it is a matter of common sense that the regulator must always stick to its part of the game — formulating policy and ensuring fair play in the telecommunication sector for all players.
However, we now have a situation in which the regulator seems to have forfeited its supervisory role and assumed that of a player. This, of course, will undermine the credibility of the game and affect the final outcome.
CCK’s conduct has generated debate in the public realm and become cause for an alarm. Its behaviour suggests that some individuals are out to make a kill in the lucrative Sh6.5 billion submarine cable project to the detriment of taxpayers who are anxiously waiting in anticipation of better prices for Internet and communication services in general.
The fact that the CCK has offered to guarantee a $60 million (Sh4 billion) loan to the State-funded Teams Ltd for the construction and development of the cable all the way from Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Mombasa raises questions on its role as a regulator.
The Government-owned special purpose vehicle, which started with the signing of an agreement between Telkom Kenya and Etisalat of UAE in December 2006, is also understood to be the brainchild of the commission.
Given this involvement, a decision by CCK to introduce a new licence for fibre-optic cable, introducing hurdles to rival cable projects, is at the very least controversial.
The new licence, as far as landing rights are concerned, renders the Data Carrier Network Operator licence, already held by rivals to the Teams project, irrelevant.
And to make matters worse, the terms of the new licence, which is priced at Sh62 million, remain unclear, creating more doubt in an industry that offers great business potential and positions the country as an ICT regional hub in terms of pricing and efficiency of the Internet broadband services.
Pricing is expected to be significantly lower than current satellite or fibre pricing, while international traffic is expected to grow substantially as a higher quality, more reliable and lower cost undersea system offsets the limitations of traditional satellite communications.