Telcos, State reach deal over management of Universal Service Fund

A subscriber checks his messages on his smartphone in Laikipia County after getting network signal. He has to walk five kilometres from his village to access the mobile network.  [ PHOTO BY STANDARD]

Kenya: Laws governing the Universal Service Fund, meant for installing communication services in marginalised areas will soon be amended to allow the participation of local telecommunication firms.

This follows an agreement reached between ICT Minister Dr Fred Matiang'i, Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC) Chairperson Catherine Nga'hu and Telecommunication Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK) to allow telecommunication companies to sit on the council-an agency formed by the government to manage the funds.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing Connected Kenya summit in Diani, Kwale, TESPOK Chief Executive Officer Fiona Asonga welcomed the move. "We are happy with the decision. Amending the laws to accommodate operators will align the operations of the council to global best practises,' she said.

In the deal, the amendments will be put in place over the next 12 months. Only last week, TESPOK had called on the industry regulator to allow its members to have a voice in the management of the funds. Contributions to the fund by the operators have exceeded Sh2.5 billion target. The money is expected for use in accelerating ICT services in marginalised areas.

"In the meantime, we will continue to engage the ministry and the USAC from time to time to ensure that deployment of the funds remain relevant to the marginalised areas and private sector investors in the country," added Ms Asonga.

Apart from managing the funds, operators have argued for a private audit of the funds as well as an access gap study. "It is important that a new access gap study be undertaken so as to clarify the existing gaps," the TESPOK CEO noted.

remit funds

Initially, operators had vowed not to remit any funds to the council without representation in the board. This was occasioned by an earlier deal by the Communications Authority to expand the USAC board to accommodate TESPOK members. This was, however, not honoured when the board was appointed.

Meanwhile, the cost of Internet access and sending money across the East African Community is set to go down as policy makers across the region move to harmonise taxes levied on data services.

According to ICT ministers from the East African member states, discussions are at an advanced stage to have Internet access and the cost of sending money across all mobile networks in the region brought down substantially.

"Already our costs of data services across the region are very competitive and lower compared to many other regions but we still believe that we can bring these costs lower still and we are working with the relevant stakeholders to see this achieved," said Matiang'i. He stated that ministers from

the member-states are speaking to central banks in the respective countries in a bid to formulate policies that will see mobile phone users send and receive money at lower prices.

Matiang'i was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Connected East Africa Summit, in Mombasa. The three-day forum which begun yesterday brings together public and private sector technology leaders from the East African region.

Last year presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda launched the One Area Network, which aims to cut cross-border calling charges by as much as 60 per cent.

The launch was executed under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Framework that has been in the pipeline for more that two years.

Area Network

According to Jean Nsengimana, Rwanda's ICT minister, the region is expecting to replicate the same benefits to data that has been brought to voice by the One Area Network.

"The one area network has been a success in the EAC and everyone is impressed and it is time we do the same for mobile money transfer and mobile internet," he said.

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