Communications Authority: Building a Connected Society Through Enabling Regulation, Partnership and Innovation
Established in the year 1999 as a regulator for the ICT sector in Kenya, the Communications Authority (CA) has over the years made great strides in fostering digital transformation in Kenya. The Corporate Watch Magazine had a sit down with the regulator’s Ag. Director General Mercy Wanjau who is an attorney, certified corporate governance auditor, mediator and coach with over 20 years experience in both public and corporate sectors. Her specialization is in policy, regulatory and governance advisory predominantly in the ICT sector. She sets the record straight on the mandate of the Authority and gives insights on the evolution of the ICT sector as well as the future of the sector and the regulating body.
What does the Communications Authority do?
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is the regulatory agency for the ICT industry in Kenya. Its regulatory mandate spans through the telecommunications, broadcasting, electronic commerce, cyber-security, and postal/courier services.
The CA is also responsible for managing the country’s numbering and frequency spectrum resources, administering the Universal Service Fund (USF) as well as safeguarding the interests of users of ICT services.
The Authority’s mandate entails issuing licenses for the various information and communications services as well ensuring that licensees adhere to their respective license conditions. This is achieved through monitoring and enforcement activities undertaken from time to time.
Additionally, the Authority fosters competition within the ICT industry by creating an enabling environment that enhances innovation, providing consumers a wide variety of services and choices.
The Authority also ensures that ICT equipment used within Kenya meets basic standards in respect to safety and other pre-defined parameters. In this regard, the Authority undertakes type approval of ICT equipment and issues licenses to vendors of ICT equipment. Consumers are advised to buy equipment only from licensed providers.
Most importantly, the Authority is vested with the responsibility of protecting the interests of users of ICT services. Towards this end, the Authority monitors the quality of services offered by licensees with a view to ensuring that ICT consumers get value for their money. The Authority also educates ICT consumers through various platforms on their rights and obligations to empower users with information to make informed purchase and use decisions in the market.
On instances where aggrieved consumers do not get redress from licensed service providers, they are encouraged to escalate their complaints to the Authority for regulatory interventions through firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone number 070042000.
Why is this important?
Since the liberalization of the ICT sector two decades ago, communications services have fundamentally impacted and shaped the lives of citizens in amazing ways, permeating every facet of the socio-economic and political spectrum.
It is now unimaginable to think which aspect of our lives has not been impacted by ICTs. Never have ICTs been so critical than now when the country is grappling with the COVID-19 crisis. ICTs have hugely complemented efforts by the Government to curb the spread of the virus. From contact tracing, payments for goods and services using mobile money, entertainment, to education, ICTs have redefined life during this pandemic.
This means that the work we do to ensure Kenyans have access to communications services is a critical assignment with a huge impact on the lives of Kenyans.
Given that we are overseeing a very dynamic sector, it means that we have to continually stay ahead in terms of anticipating changes in the sector and ensuring that ICT consumers get value for their money as they leverage ICTs in their day-to-day activities.
What do you remember about the telecommunications industry from the year 2000?
The year 2000 saw the operationalization of the 1997 Postal and Telecommunications Sector Policy Statement, with the licensing of Kenya’s first two mobile operators – Kencell (now Airtel) and Safaricom. The licensing of these two private Mobile Network operators signaled the end of the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by the giant KPTC.
It therefore heralded the beginning of the transformation of Kenya’s ICT sector and the introduction of market liberalization. The Communications Commission of Kenya (predecessor to the CA) embarked on the systematic removal of market barriers through the drastic reduction of entry fees for, for example, Internet Service Providers, from KES 1m to 100,000, as well as the licensing of technology-specific players such as VSAT operators.
It also witnessed the introduction of new capital in the country’s nascent mobile industry, which almost immediately thereafter surpassed the number of fixed lines to stand at 20,000.
The Government also embarked on the process of privatizing Telkom Kenya. Telkom Kenya still enjoyed monopoly in the provision of local fixed services and provision of local and international interconnection facilities for the newly licensed mobile operators, while the regulator rebalanced its tariffs for local fixed services.
Strangely but expectedly, this time also saw those licensed early, trying to persuade the Authority to limit the number of players in the market, while others moved hastily to enter the market even as the Government embarked on the liberalization process.
During the years that followed the establishment of the CCK, monopolistic practices slowed down advances in the sector, and was characterized by many appeals from fast-growing players who were experiencing delays in the acquisition of fixed link capacities from the then monopoly in the long-distance services market.
At the time, the market structure was a lot more technology-specific, with the regulator focusing more on operationalization of the Act, and enforcement of coverage obligations, which the mobile operators managed to cover faster than the prescribed time period.
What are the major changes that have taken place in the last 20 years?
Since its establishment in 1999, the Authority has been at the frontline of opening up the ICT industry to competition. As a result, Kenyans now enjoy choice and quality postal and ICT services at competitive prices.
We have achieved this through licensing of players and creating an enabling environment that fosters innovations and competition within the sector. The establishment of a dynamic licensing regime (Unified Licensing Framework) has enabled more entrants into the market.
Today, we boast of a mobile subscription of 59.8 million (active Sims penetration), Internet subscription of 43.5 million, broadband subscription of 22.7 million and more than 31.8 million Kenyans using the mobile money platform. This has contributed to Kenya being ranked as one of the top ten fastest growing digital economies both regionally and globally not to mention being among the leading players of the digital economy.
CA is mandated to facilitate access to ICT services through the Universal Service Fund (USF. What progress has CA made with this project?
One of the key mandates of the Authority is facilitating access to ICT services in all parts the country. In this regard, the Authority is charged with the responsibility of managing and administering the Universal Service Fund to which all licensees are required to contribute a given percentage of their revenue. The fund is utilized for deployment of ICT infrastructure and services in under-served and un-served areas.
To identify the existing ICT access gaps that needed to be closed, the Authority in 2016 undertook an ICT Access Gaps Study. The study gave us indicators of the existing disparities in access to communications services that needed remedies.
The study also identified areas where urgent interventions were required and proposed a five-year implementation plan. The Authority prioritized two key areas in its 1st phase of closing the communication gaps. These included rolling out 2G voice services in 202 sub locations that had no connectivity at all, covering an un-served population of approximately 700,000 people. The other focus area was availing broadband to public secondary schools.
Through the USF, we have already facilitated the rolled out of 2G voice services in over 70 sub locations that until recently had zero coverage. Additionally, we have connected 884 secondary schools with high speed Internet to promote the integration of ICTs in education. The beneficiary schools spread across the 47 counties have been provided with 5Mbps broadband connectivity under the Education Broadband Connectivity project.
Ultimately, the Authority is planning to scale up the Education Broadband Connectivity to cover the over 8,000 public secondary schools in the country. We are also currently planning the roll out of the second phase of the voice infrastructure targeting other unserved and underserved areas in the country.
The Authority is currently rolling out Phase II of the Voice & Infrastructure project targeting about 101 sub-locations in an endevour to ensure that all the un-served and underserved communities access equitable and affordable ICT services.
Given that this is a capital-intensive venture, we are looking forward to bringing on board partnerships to seal all the existing voice and other ICT access gaps identified in the study as the task is not only onerous but also expensive.
As the regulator where do you see the future of the ICT industry?
It has become clear in recent times that wireless communications will reign supreme in the Communications Industry for the foreseeable future and that economic activity, social services and business prospects in the sector will strongly hinge on the way in which the country will optimally deploy its ICT resources, facilitate universal access to communication by all its citizens and, above all, address competition in the sector. This is especially true with regard to access to spectrum resources as well as anti-competitive practices in the Industry.
It is important therefore for all stakeholders to support the quest for a level playing field in order to enable Kenya consolidate and advance the gains it has made in the ICT sector, and attract new investments into the sector and the economy at large.
Kenya is now recognized for its wealth in upcoming tech-savvy young population that consider ICT as part of their day-to-day lives and are developing solutions to every day challenges. A vibrant multi-player market will help ensure that this group of Kenyans move the country to even greater heights in the world stage.
Reading from the trends during the COVID-19 pandemic it is now evident that institutions will continue to greatly minimize face to face interactions and encourage working remotely based from their homes. We expect the continued adoption of Internet connectivity on a large scale leading to more utilization of bandwidth at both terrestrial and sub-marine cables.
It is also envisioned that ICT innovation complemented with research and development will expedite the afore-mentioned needs of digital blue print and digital economy.
ICT growth will be propelled by favourable government policies and foreign investments. In essence Kenya is an upcoming hotspot for ICT outsourcing and the zeal to reach these expectations can be made real through the proven ability to develop talent capital and infrastructure that is capable of competing in the global platform.
This means that ICT practitioners must be extra vigilant and continually monitor their infrastructure and security systems against any vulnerabilities or breaches. Any unusual and strange activity on the networks they manage must be flagged and reported promptly using the available protocols. Access to all critical government systems/data must be restricted to ensure controlled access and enhance responsibility in the event of any risk incident.
The CA has been and will continue to play its statutory role in managing our cyberspace through its National Kenya Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre (National KE-CIRT/CC). Some of the efforts include proactively sharing timely advisories to the vulnerable critical infrastructure information security teams for prompt mitigation.
We also see the future of the telecommunication industry as one that shall be accessible by every single Kenyan wherever they are and whatever time they wish to, i.e. a ubiquitous high-quality telecommunications network that support all manner of applications especially those that foster the attainment of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as all other national priorities and initiatives.
We also foresee a telecommunications industry that provides sufficient safeguards for all users particularly the most vulnerable groups such as the young, the old and the semi-illiterate.
We also see 5G networks which are the next generation promise faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity to mobile users. But 5G network operators require robust WiFi networks to carry the majority of the traffic to enable network operators deliver on their promise.
Cellular technology is also starting to migrate from smart phones into Internet of Things (IoT) as a viable option for Low Power Wide Area Networks (LP WAN) connectivity.
LTE-Mobile is also compatible with existing LTE networks and in future will co-exist with 5G technologies.
We expect more wireless innovations to come into play in 2021 and beyond as wireless indoor tracking technologies, the next generation WiFi 6 standard and LP WAN protocols reach the main stream.
The future of telecommunication is wireless! The top wireless technology trends are:
2. 5G Cellular
3. Vehicle to-Everything (V2X)
4. Long-Range Wirelesss Power
5. Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) Networks
6. Wireless Sensing
7. Enhanced Wireless Location Tracking
8. Millimeter Wave Wireless
9. Backscatter networking
10. Software Defined Radios (SDR)