Telcos, internet providers face fines as regulator reviews terms

Regulator says it is looking to strengthen rules around domain name registration to avert chaos. [AFP]
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) whose Internet services fail to meet regulatory standards will be fined heavily starting this year.

This comes as the sector regulator - the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA), prepares to release a new report in the next two months on the quality of data services in Kenya.

The report will come on the backdrop of rapid internet adoption in the country. It is a revision of CA’s annual quality of service survey that initially measured only voice and SMS services, prescribing scores that highlighted network failings among mobile network operators.

“We have received complaints from consumers on the quality of data and Internet services in the past and in recent months, we have been conducting our own measurements to grade the various service providers in the sector,” said CA Director General Francis Wangusi. Last year, CA launched a Sh400 million system that allows it to measure the quality of services from mobile data service providers under several parameters.

The new system also takes measures of the consumer experience - for the first time, giving users a say in the ranking of service providers’ performance along with major aspects of network availability, service quality, service tariffs and customer care among others.

This has been achieved using mobile units installed in specialised vehicles that are deployed around five key regions to collect data on network service quality. The information is then relayed to CA’s headquarters on Waiyaki Way and aggregated with information from service providers as well as customer satisfaction surveys to give performance scores.

“The report has taken some time to compile because of the geographical scale of the country which took us longer than we expected, but by June this year, we will have completed analysing the data and publish our report,” said Wangusi.

Aside from measuring the quality of data services, the regulator also seeks to analyse service provision among the dozens of domain registries that host the thousands of websites and blogs in the country.

“We have received complaints of users copying others’ domain names to divert traffic to their sites or registering websites using fake credentials and using these sites to disseminate disinformation or malicious content,” said Wangusi. Earlier this month, a popular travel firm Bonfire Adventures was accused by rivals of setting up domain names that re-directed consumers from competitor sites in a breach of competition regulation.

Bountiful Safaris, which markets its services on the website www.bountifulsafaris.com, accused Bonfire Ventures of registering similar domain names including www.bountifulsafaric.org and www.bountifulsafaris.net that re-directed users to its site on www.bonfireadventures.com.

A similar complaint against Bonfire Adventures was raised by another travel company, Trippy Go Tours and Travel. A spot check by Financial Standard revealed that the contentious domain names cited in the complaint to the CA have since been deactivated.

CA says it is looking to strengthen regulation around domain name registration to avert similar cases. There are 83, 646 registered domain names, 93 per cent of which are owned by private companies.

However, the regulator has called on consumers to be wary of the terms and conditions of mobile data bundles before procuring services that many perceive to be unfairly priced.

This followed numerous complaints on social media of consumers losing data bundles bought through special offers advertised by mobile service providers.                     

“The pricing of mobile data bundles is structured in diverse ways worldwide, but predominantly in such ways that both times, as well as the volume of data, are factors that are tied into the pricing structure,” said Wangusi.  “In general, the service provider is deemed to have honoured their promise or obligation when either the customer has exhausted the volume of data purchased within the timeframe specified for their tariff plan or where the time specified for their tariff plan has elapsed, i.e, whichever comes first,” he said.

This means a mobile data user would only be deemed to have suffered a loss if the service provider fails to permit continued use of the service before either of the two conditions has been met.

CA says as long as service providers stick to the terms and conditions of the advertised data bundles, it has little recourse to prescribe punitive measures against them.

“Currently, the Authority does not see any need for intervention. The MNOs are required to publish the terms and conditions to ensure consumers make informed purchase decisions,” said Wangusi.

According to the latest CA report, there are 45.7 million Internet users in the country, which would translate to almost 100 per cent penetration.

There are however many people who hold multiple SIM cards. “As at December 31, 2018, the total number of active Internet subscriptions stood at 45.7 million of which 47.9 per cent were on broadband,” said CA in the report. “Safaricom Plc registered the highest market share for mobile data subscriptions at 69.5 per cent whereas Airtel Network Ltd reported 22.4 per cent market share.

Further, Telkom Kenya Ltd, Finserve Africa Ltd, and Mobile Pay Ltd reported market shares of 7.4, 0.4 and 0.2 per cent respectively.” The regulator expects the data market to continue offering the operators growth opportunities, with subscribers in the traditional voice and text markets expected to start declining.

“Unlike the mobile voice and SMS services that are expected to record slight decline in the next quarter (to March 2019), the data sub-sector is expected to continue exhibiting remarkable growth,” said CA.

“This is attributed to the facts that demand data services in Kenya are driven by increased demand for accessing; government services online, e-commerce services and enhanced interest in social media platforms and high definition video streaming.”

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Internet Service ProvidersInternet servicesCommunication Authority of Kenya