The Communications Commission of Kenya – CCK – recently drew ire and cheers in almost equal measure when it enacted fair-play regulations within the communications sector. For companies that perceive themselves as targets of the measures, this came across as an unfair act singling them out for their success. But for those who are more concerned about consumer-end issues, the measures are welcome, and might even not go far enough. This group ranges from wild-eyed price-control freaks to consumer advocates. And they do have a point: as far as internet connection charges are concerned, CCK is sleeping on the job.
The excitement that accompanied the landing of fibre optic cables at Mombasa over the last one year has swiftly been replaced by disappointment and even anger as internet costs have remained stubbornly high. There have been various excuses advanced for this: CCK Director-General Charles Njoroge incredibly stated that he “hoped the sector would be self-regulating”.
The naivety of this approach is seen in the failure of the sector to innovate and drop access prices. It does not help that the TEAMS cable, which is owned by the Kenya government in consortium with various telecoms companies in the country, is the one best placed to force prices down. But with those companies having invested millions of dollars in the construction of the cable, it is nonsensical to expect that some sort of altruism will suddenly infuse them to the extent that they reduce prices to match what the market is asking for.
A collusion of sorts therefore exists across the sector insofar as internet charges are concerned – there appears to be an unspoken agreement by the telecom majors to keep prices at their current levels, a state of affairs that is clearly hampering increased internet access across many other sectors in the economy.