NAIROBI, Kenya –  Chinese firm, which won a highly contested tender to provide digital signal to Kenyan television viewers, has completed its rollout of the digital signal in Nairobi and is likely to cover 70 percent of the market this year.

The Pan African Network Group is currently working towards the goal of rolling out the digital signal to Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, before moving gradually to other towns ahead of an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline of July. “The digital signal is available in Nairobi. This will increase spectrum capacity,” Alfred Ambani, acting Assistant Director of Multi-Media Services at the state-run regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), told Xinhua late yesterday.

Addressing a media open day ahead of the International Telecommunication Day marked on Thursday, Ambani said the cost of assisting television viewers to move to the digital signal from the current analogue signals required a lot of input from the state.

“There will be a cut-off date when we will have to move to digital signal from the analogue. It is important consumers be told to acquire the set top boxes,” Ambani told journalists. The Set Top Boxes will convert current signal to the digital signals. The CCK is exploring the possibility of using locally available funds set aside for the universal access policies, to assist millions of people to access the digital signals.

However, the universal access fund, aimed at assisting millions of poor people to access telecommunication services, remains inactive several years after its set up. Francis Wangusi, the CCK Acting Director-General, said the creation of the fund took a year after the relevant laws were enacted but the appointment of the board members was delayed by the lack of applicants for the posts. “CCK is not the appointing authority…we will roll out the fund and we would determine the projects to be covered,” Wangusi said. Mobile phone companies are expected to contribute to the fund, but the regulator said it was currently not deducting any contributions for the universal access fund.

Ambani said the CCK was exploring various avenues of ensuring the set top boxes are available to the market. The regulator is suggesting the removal of taxes to lower the costs of accessing the gadgets. The regulator has also issued directives on the standards to be applied by the various importers to ensure that the latest technology is available to users. CCK insists that it would not switch off to the new signals unless all those currently receiving the analogue signals are able to access them.

“The switch off is dependent on roll out. We will adopt a phased switch off where we will only switch off to the digital signal after as many people as those with analogue signals have acquired the digital signal,” Ambani affirmed. The switch off to digital signals has raised controversy in Kenya after local broadcasters failed to clinch the tender to provide the digital signals. Broadcasters have challenged CCK in court over the implementation of the regulator’s new set of rules which require broadcasters to rely on a signal distributor.

Broadcasters under the Kenyan Media Owners Association charge that the CCK is not purely independent of state control and that the regulations are against the law. John Omo, the CCK Secretary and Legal Advisor, said the regulator saw no need to license more signal distributors because there would be no business to sustain the licensee. He said an earlier c********e challenging the award of the tender to the Chinese firm was defeated on a technical ground after a challenge on the challenger’s right to sue.

“The battle is between those who favor the status quo and those who want to protect frequency assignments and investments versus those seeking its redistribution.” The regulator insists that firms that received frequencies earlier should not stop newcomers from receiving the same. Broadcasters argue the CCK has no right to determine television content and that those with investments in signal distribution should be allowed to continue distributing it. (Xinhua)

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