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Row over Kenya mobile phone rules

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 – The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has maintained that the recently gazetted Kenya Information and Communication Regulations of 2010 are meant to even out the playing field for all operators in the telecommunications sector.

Director General Charles Njoroge said the new Fair Competition and Equality of Treatment Regulations were not targeted at any player but were meant ensure that none of the operators abuse their positions at the expense of others.

“They provide for the standards and procedures to be applied by the Commission in determining whether a particular conduct is anti-competitive. More importantly, the regulations provide for the standards and processes that CCK shall apply when determining whether a telecommunications service provider is dominant in given market,” he said but did not say whether there any operator was using their position to undermine others.

The four mobile phone operators in the country have raised divergent views over the regulations with Safaricom calling for amendments.

The regulations have been modeled on those released in 2001 when there were two players and hardly any competition with the main focus then being how to expand networks. Ten years later and with four mobile operators to boot, the government has seen the need to amend the laws to reflect these changes, Mr Njoroge said.

Safaricom however argued on Monday that the government was punishing it as the dominant player despite the heavy investments and the fact that it had not employed any monopolistic tactics in the market.

Mr Njoroge however said the laws were well thought out with input from all stakeholders but any firm that disagreed with this assertion was free to forward its grievances to the Commission.

“Competition is not strictly a matter of population or the number of firms in a market. Other important considerations for market competition include product homogeneity, perfect knowledge of the product, free entry and the like,” he said.

Although it is only players in the mobile phone sector who have raised concerns with the laws, they apply to other operators including Internet Services Providers and services such as data that they offer.

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“You don’t have to make a law when there’s a crisis. For us to maximise on the gains (in the industry) it is important that we don’t wake up one day and give guidelines. It is important that we put them in writing so that people can be able to know their rights and obligations,” he added.

Ultimately, consumers will be the biggest beneficiaries as they are likely to benefit from enhanced service delivery, the Director General added while citing a survey conducted in 2006 which identified the need to develop laws on fair competition to seal the gaps in the industry.

CCK will now embark on setting up the mechanisms to enforce the laws and put in place structure to guide the sector.

“We have a responsibility to the public and our licensees and we are looking forward to guiding them and from time to time tell them “we think you are not going in the right direction, we think you need to come back on board’. Our intention is therefore not to penalise,” he added.

On whether claims that the legislations would introduce price controls, Mr Njoroge said the CCK did not have any intentions of regulating the market.

While the government maintains that the regulations are meant to streamline market efficiency, it is clear that Safaricom will be negatively impacted as the laws are skewed in favour of the other players.

It however remains to be seen whether the government will bow to pressure from the publicly listed firm where the government holds a 35 percent stake and review the laws.

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