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Telcom firms take a swipe at road contractors over cable cuts

By -MACHARIA KAMAU
Updated Sat, August 10th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
A grader working at road construction site. Firms undertaking road repair works are accused of digging up cables thereby causing major disruptions.

By MACHARIA  KAMAU

Telecommunication firms want road authorities subjected to heavy penalties for tampering with telecommunication infrastructure when undertaking road construction works.

The companies note that the firms contracted to undertake road repair works have been digging up cables causing major disruptions that ends up being costly for network operators.Chairman Jamii Telecommunications Ltd (JTL) Joshua Chepkwony said road construction especially around Nairobi has been costly for telcos that have cable networks.

Frequent cable cuts, he said, have seen their customers experience downtimes that the operators have to compensate for by offering customers additional uptime when the connections are restored.

He added that ICT companies pass on the cost of repair works to customers and at the same time limit their ability to expand networks to other areas. He noted that this might affect the time taken to bridge the rural-urban digital divide.

“Road construction is destroying telecommunications infrastructure and we end up spending a lot in restoration of the networks. If this continues, connectivity prices will never come down,” said Chepkwony.

 He added that the operators would also be limited to spending in rehabilitating the networks in urban areas instead of investing in expanding the infrastructure to rural areas.

It is not the first time that telcos have expressed concerns over the issue.  In past, cable cuts by road contractors have resulted in major connectivity downtimes, which have proved costly for the network operators with several instances where mobile phone operators have been unable to deliver different services including voice and mobile money.

This has had a ripple effect and with most businesses heavily reliant on connectivity has found themselves unable to deliver services to their clients. JTL recently took Kenya Urban Roads Authority to court over cable cuts and the court ruled in favour of Jamii Telecommunications Ltd.

Harsher penalties

ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the ministry is looking at different options that would reduce cable cuts by road contractors.

He said the ICT ministry is at moment in talks with the roads ministry and are evaluating the best options available,

“By December, we will have a concrete legislation governing critical infrastructure… we are in consultation with other ministries, professional associations and we are looking at the different options that we have as well as what happens in other jurisdictions,” he said.

At the moment, he noted, there have been different proposals that include charging road contractors a levy that would be used in reviving networks when there are cable cuts.

 “There are, however, challenges as to how such a fund will be managed and what happens when there are no cable cuts,” said Matiang’i.

He said government also wants to have standards in road construction where the wayleaves and ducts for telecommunication cables would be provided for during the construction phase. In addition to cable cuts by road contractors, there is outright vandalism, which is a larger concern for telcos and which they say has seen them lose billions of shillings every year.

A recent amendment to Kenya Communications Act and the Energy Act stipulates harsher penalties for cable vandals. As per the amendments, convicted vandals will serve ten years in jail or pay Sh10 million fine.

Amendments to the two Acts are in addition to the Finance Act 2012 that requires scrap metal dealers to trace the origin of the metals they buy from hawkers. The law spells ou stiff sentences for convicted vandals.

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