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90% of Kenyans in darkness as TV signals are switched off

By WAHOME THUKU | Published Sun, February 15th 2015 at 00:00, Updated February 15th 2015 at 00:06 GMT +3

Kenya: The end of the analogue television broadcasting in Kenya has become a reality with its termination in most parts of the country amid acrimony between key players in the industry and the regulator, Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK).

Following the termination of analogue broadcasting yesterday, more than 90 per cent of television viewers were plunged into darkness. Majority of those switched off are poor Kenyans who can’t afford pay TV.

But in the words of CAK General Secretary Francis Wangusi, only “the lazy Kenyans have failed to acquire the set top boxes that are available in many outlets across the country”.

In a country of more than six million television households, there is a combined number of just over 500,000 Set Top Boxes, most of them pay TV decoders, with only about 50,000 of these being free-to-air boxes.

Virtually all major towns and their environs were switched off from the analogue TV broadcast. These are the areas whose deadline for the switchover either fell on December 31, 2014 or February 2.

The international deadline for the switchover is June 17, 2015 but the CAK maintains the entire country must be on the digital platform well ahead of that date.

Only a few areas are on analogue platform now, awaiting their deadline on March 30 to complete the switchover. These are Garissa, Kitui, Lodwar, Lokichogio, Kapenguria, Kabarnet, Migori, Voi, Mbui Nzau/Kibwezi and Namanga among others.

Withdrawn licences

The three mainstream media houses – Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services – under their consortium, African Digital Network (ADN), had enjoyed a temporary period on the analogue platform, awaiting the outcome of their court cases against the CAK.

On September 29, last year the Supreme Court ordered the CAK to consider the ADN application for signal distribution licence and frequencies.

On November 25, the ADN was given a self-provisioning licence to enable it distribute signals as an interim digital distribution licence, and then on December 15, 2014 they were allocated one frequency for Nairobi. The switch off date for Nairobi was December 31, 2014 and the media houses could not manage to procure their infrastructure within the given period.

When it became eminent that the CAK intended to switch them off, they went back to court for protection and were allowed to continue on analogue platform pending the hearing and determination of the case.

On Friday, the court issued four orders. One was to terminate the temporary order allowing the broadcasters to remain on analogue platform; the other was for CAK to immediately reinstate the withdrawn licences and frequencies.

The third was for the media houses to abide by the conditions for issuance of the frequencies and the licence while the fourth was that the dates for the switch-off remain as scheduled by the CAK.

Within hours of the ruling, the CAK wrote to the three media houses instructing them to switch off analogue transmission and hand back the frequencies by midnight.

But the commission did not act with equal speed on the part requiring them to reinstate the frequencies and the licence.

At a news conference on Friday, Eng Wangusi said the CAK had its own procedural ways of conducting its affairs.

He said the licence and the signals would be reinstated, but the CAK would consult its legal advisers on whether the media houses should still be fined for the alleged violation of rules.

“The CAK has only decided to focus on one of the four orders issued by the Supreme Court,” said the ADN in a letter to the CAK, signed by the coordinator Mr Sam Sholei.

The commission had issued the deadline with inconsiderate and reckless haste in complete disregard to the interests of more than 90 per cent of viewers that depend entirely on Free-To-Air Television, the letter pointed out.
Unfair move

“We expect the CAK to address itself to the rest of the orders issued by the Supreme Court, specifically the reinstatement of the self-provisioning digital broadcasting license which must equally be communicated to us in writing by the CAK,” ADN said in a statement.

The ADN maintained that even with the reinstatement of the digital frequencies and the licences, the digital migration would only be possible if the CAK allowed them time for acquisition of transmitters, antenna and the critical set-top boxes.

“This acquisition process, it should be noted, was interrupted by the CAK’s cancellation of our self provisioning authorisation on the January 21, 2015,” they said.

The ADN accused the CAK of failing to act fairly when two other media houses switched back from digital to analogue platform broadcasting in Nairobi.

“No action known to us or the public was taken against the said stations. This case is among many recent instances that cleared all doubt over your consistent inability to be an impartial arbiter in industry matters,” the ADN lamented.
Wangusi said the two media houses went back to the analogue transmission upon realising they were being shortchanged.

“We wrote to them giving them up to this weekend to go back to digital broadcasting. We were only waiting for the ruling of the Supreme Court for us to take action,” he said.

Another issue that persists even as the country embarks on the digital broadcasting is the question of consent by broadcasters to have their material aired by the common carriers. The three media houses want their content to be carried exclusively by their distributor – ADN – unless they give consent to be carried by others.

But the CAK maintains that other licenced distributors will continue carrying all the content generated by the free-to-air channels. Wangusi says even the ADN will be required to carry at least five other such channels, one of which must be KBC.
 


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