CA defends issuing mobile licence to Jamii Telecom

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) chairman Ngene Gituku. FILE PHOTO | NMG
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) chairman Ngene Gituku. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The communications sector regulator Thursday took a defensive stance against allegations that it irregularly awarded technology firm Jamii Telecom a licence to provide mobile services.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), in a hastily organised media briefing, refused to take any questions on the deal that saw Jamii Telecom earn the coveted spectrum and a licence to provide mobile services.

The regulator claimed that the deal was above board, denying that it could potentially cost taxpayers billions of shillings in unpaid licence fees.

“Contrary to what appeared in the media today, the Authority wishes to clarify that no money has been lost in the authorisation given to Jamii Telecom,” said CA chairman Ngene Gituku.

Mr Gituku said that he could not answer media queries before a board meeting on the issue had been convened. A board meeting called yesterday to discuss the matter failed to garner quorum.

The board chair, however, confirmed that Jamii Telecom had in September last year been granted a trial licence to offer mobile phone services.

Industry players have voiced their protests, claiming that the regulator-- in assigning the mobile licence and 4G frequency to Jamii Telecom-- was reneging on earlier promises to publicly auction the spectrum.

In addition, they’ve raised concerns that Jamii Telecom did not pay the Sh2.5 billion ($25 million) fee as required by the law.

“We don’t understand how the best quality spectrum could be allocated in a process that hasn’t been shared with the operators,” said Safaricom #ticker:SCOM chief executive Bob Collymore on Wednesday.

Jamii Telecom, which operates the Faiba brand, however came out strongly saying that it had followed all CA processes in applying for the license and claiming that its mode of entry to the mobile services market is clean.

Business tycoon and Jamii Telecom chairman Joshua Chepkwony dismissed the allegations as attempts of the industry’s dominant players to frustrate the entry of a new operator who might destabilise their hold of the market.

“We are very determined to make sure we penetrate this market. We want to make sure Kenyans have choices in terms of accessing telecommunications services. And you cannot have that if a few operators are dominating the market,” said Mr Chepkwony.

The company pointed out that other players have tried new frequencies without paying license fees and said that it was planning to pay up the Sh2.5 billion at the end of the trial period in compliance with its agreement with the CA.

Market leader Safaricom didn’t pay its 4G spectrum licence fee until January this year although it had piloted services on the band for months.

Airtel and Telkom Kenya were also given 4G spectrum on a pilot basis although neither have launched 4G services.

Jamii Telecom said that it was planning to launch commercial trials this quarter and has already invested Sh5.1 billion ($50 million) in its network infrastructure. Once commercial, Jamii will focus on offering data services.

Other telecom operators are currently offering 4G Internet services on the 800 Megahertz spectrum. The 700 MHZ spectrum gives operators better coverage, meaning they can reach further without having to invest as much in their network density.