Regulator rebuffs telco’s bid for TV licence, again

[Jacob Otieno/Standard]
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has deferred the decision to grant Safaricom a broadcasting licence again.

This is pending the official release of the report on market dominance in the telecommunications sector.

CA Director-General Francis Wangusi said yesterday the firm cannot be granted the licence to distribute bundled broadcasting products, until the regulator determines its scale is not a threat to existing service providers.

“We told them (Safaricom) that if they want to stream and broadcast through the Internet, they can go ahead since this is something they are already doing anyway,” he said during an interview.

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“But if what they want to do is bundle together content and broadcast this free-to-air or through a digital signal distribution licence, then we have a problem with that.”

During the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting in 2015, Safaricom made an application to the authority seeking a licence to own and operate a free-to-air television station. The firm also applied for an Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) service licence as well as licences for subscription management and terrestrial subscription broadcasting services.

However, CA has for the past three years turned down Safaricom’s request, with CEO Bob Collymore last month saying the service provider would reach out to the regulator yet again.

The telco’s push for a broadcasting licence was the grounding behind the launch of Safaricom’s Big Box. The Big Box was meant to be a decoder and internet router, but failed to gain traction among subscribers. The move by the telco would have shaken both the pay TV and free-to-air segments of the industry.

Currently, five signal distributors are licensed to broadcast digital TV signals. These are Africa Digital Network, MultiChoice’s GoTV Kenya, Chinese-owned Pan Africa Network Group, the State-run Signet and Lancia Digital.

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Create efficiencies

Service providers seeking to apply for or renew their telecommunications, broadcasting or courier services will also be able to do it online as the CA moves to install a new licensing management system to fast-track the process of evaluating and issuing licences.

“The Licensing Management System will create efficiencies in the licensing process thus reducing the time taken and resources required, improving efficiency in inspections and compliance monitoring management,” explained CA in tender documents.

Licence fees form a large part of the revenue CA collects annually, standing at Sh6.6 billion out of the Sh7.8 billion in earnings the authority received in the 2016 financial year.

This comes amid an increase in the number of service providers seeking licences from the regulator to run various businesses, including courier services and digital broadcasting.

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The number of fixed radio stations across all frequencies has increased from 2,288 to 2,400 while licensed portable radio stations have gone up to 14,162 from 12,995.

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Communications Authority of KenyaCASafaricombroadcasting licenceCA Director-General Francis Wangusi