On Saturday, the Communication Commission of Kenya shut down illegal broadcast transmitters in different parts of the country. The CCK Director General FRANCIS WANGUSI said the transmitters were being operated using unauthorised frequencies or the required licences.
The six transmitters that were dismantled belonged to the Royal Media Services owned by businessman SK Macharia. The regulator said the company has been self-assigning the frequencies and grabbing from other broadcasters.
The company is said to be using over 40 frequencies that are illegally acquired and has erected transmitters in non-designated sites. This has far-reaching consequences in the communication industry as well as in aviation. Wangusi says CCK shut down of the transmitters has just began. He spoke to our writer WINFRED KAGWE.
What is the frequency problem?
One of the broadcasters, Royal Media Services, has been engaging in illegal activities by putting up transmitters all over the country without CCK permission. The company has also been illegally acquiring radio and TV frequencies by taking them up without our permission or taking what has been assigned to its competitors.
The Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, Section 35 outlaws the setting up and operation of communications apparatus without authorisation from CCK.
How many frequencies has the company acquired illegally?
Through our investigations we have established that Royal Media has over 40 illegally gotten frequencies. Some 17 of them - five for TV and 12 radio frequencies - were recently acquired.
Today, six of the transmitter stations have been put off-air. They were were located in Narok, Nakuru, Mukuyuni in Ukambani and Mabrui in Malindi. There are other unauthorised masts in places like Nanyuki, Karue Hill, Vuria Hill, Enchoro Hill, Murang'a which we will also be shutting down in the next few days.
These are not the only illegal transmitters. Between 2008 and 2012, Royal Media also acquired 24 frequencies, 22 FM and two TV, in the same manner. These are still in operation because of an ongoing court case where the Commission has been injuncted from taking any action.
Between 2002 and 2006, Royal Media had grabbed 77 frequencies, 67 FM and 10 TV.
CCK after consultations with the relevant government organs regularised these frequencies on the understanding that the broadcaster would stop using unauthorised frequencies and deploying transmitters in non-designated broadcasting sites. But they did not stop and this is impacting on our economy and safety.
What are the implications of this?
In our planning for frequencies, we normally liaise with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, National Environmental Management Authority, and local governments.
This is to ensure that where we allocate frequencies or allow transmitter sites that do not interfere with flight paths, cause environmental degradation or interfere with councils' planning. These are the Designated Broadcasting Sites of a country. Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and Kenya Airways have lodged many complaints to us about threats to the safety of our airspace due to interferences from these illegal transmitters.
The transmitter stations have on a number of occasions caused interferences to radio communication between pilots and the control tower. Also note, most of the transmitters are placed on top of hills and KCAA is not aware of this since we did not notify them; this means aircrafts can even crash in to them. So if someone wants to reach more customers, he is endangering the lives of people.
Nema has also raised concerns that the transmitters are being erected without first meeting the requirement for environmental impact assessment. These could be emitting dangerous electromagnetic radiation so we are dealing with uncertainties here. We are also supposed to co-ordinate use of radio communication services.
What are the economic impacts of this, and how is the communications industry being affected?
For starters, Citizen is not paying for the frequencies. If these were to be assigned to another player they would be paying; so the government is losing resources which would have been directed towards other projects.
The annual fees for TV is Sh360,000 while for radio it is Sh136,000 for each frequency. Actually,Kenya is one of the cheapest places to broadcast in.
Illegally acquiring frequencies is also causing unfair competition in the market. Citizen is not paying while others are, and yet they are using the wider reach to convince advertisers to pay more in the stations. This unfavorable competition is jeopardising investments in the ICT sector. Also one person having too many frequencies is not the kind of diversity we are looking for.
This is also causing conflict among the broadcasters because these frequencies are grabbed from the duly licensed users. The others that are self assigned are causing interferences on other users' frequencies. In some instances, the interferences are so intense that the services of other broadcasters using duly authorised frequencies have been rendered completely inoperable.
We have also noted that more TV transmitters are being set up and as you know the rest of the world is moving to digital TV transmission. I suspect the TV transmitters being set up by the company are technologies being dumped here from the countries that have migrated. It is going to cost the government a lot of money to get rid of the e-waste.
Have you found other broadcasters doing the same?
No one else; it's only Royal Media. We have been doing our investigations across the country. We have the locations of the transmitters, the period they are estimated to have been in operation and they all belong to Royal Media.
Spectrum is a limited resource and when other broadcasters come to us asking for more, we are forced to turn them down, because we do not have much to assign. Yet the following day they hear Royal Media has new frequencies.
Even when the other broadcasters are turned down on frequency allocation, they have never resorted to this.
If some of the transmitters have been up for as long as five years, why did this go on with a regulator in place?
We have on various occasions tried to take action. The 77 frequencies Citizen acquired between 2002 and 2006, the government ordered us to regularise this. When they continued, anytime we approached Macharia, he was being protected by some officials in government then. In 2010, he started going to court knowing he no longer had the protection, and as as you know our courts have not been too clean so he has been getting injunction stopping us from taking action.
Let me also admit that as CCK we may be having an internal problem. Because for one person to go on with this, he must have assistance from the inside. I have not been at the helm of CCK for long, but I suspect this has been going on. This is why I have come up forcefully to try to clean up.
How did CCK arrive at the decision to bring down the transmitters ?
By the time we came to this decision, we had done a lot of communication through writing to the company, to see how we can reverse this. But Royal Media is acting in impunity and continuing with this practice.
As we speak, there is a station they have started in Teso in Malaba which we have not authorised. They have put transmitters there which are just next to Tororo in Uganda, and you know anything near the border we want to know how far does it go to Uganda and does the Ugandan authorities allow that. This is the kind of co-ordination that only CCK can do.
We have received complaints for Coast that they have put up a station in Msambweni that is interfering with Kaya FM. The owners of the station wrote to us and said they are either going to ban it or also erect theirs to interfere.
We saw that the cases are rising as they are putting up new ones everyday. You know if they stop and we deal with the frequencies he has already acquired, we would be talking about the possibility of assisting him regularise them. It's just causing anarchy in the ICT sector.
Why do it now?
Some of the broadcaster have threated to take legal action because we do not seem to be taking our work seriously.Transmissions from these illegal stations are also causing interferences in neighbouring countries, eliciting complaints from regulators in the region.
We are also not going to compromise on the security of our airspace, especially during this election period.
Are you going to pursue further legal action against Royal Media and the owner?
Yes. On Monday (today) we are going to take him to court because this is a criminal offense. The Communications Act, Cap 4 clearly states this is a criminal act attracting penalty of Sh5 million fine or three-year imprisonment or both.
We will use some of the apparatus we have uprooted as evidence. The court already ruled in our favour, but it gave him time to appeal. Once the court finalises we are going to get rid of all these transmitters.
Will this affect the planned TV migration as analogue TV transmission is switched off and digital signals take over?
We have already stopped issuing new TV frequencies in preparation for this. But you see they have recently increased the number of TV transmitters. This is however not going to affect the migration. When the time to switch off analogue comes, all will be shut down whether they were acquired legally or illegally.
WHY CCK SHUT DOWN UNAUTHORISED TRANSMITTERS
The Communications Commission of Kenya on Saturday morning shut down six Royal Media Services broadcast transmitters in Nakuru, Narok, Mukuyuni (Makueni) and Mabrui (Malindi) which were being operated without a licence and using unauthorised or 'grabbed' frequencies.
The six are part of 17 transmitters put up illegally by Royal Media Services in the recent past without a licence from CCK, and therefore in contravention of the law. Some of the transmitters are located in non-designated broadcasting sites thus causing interferences to other critical services including aviation. A further 22 FM and two TV unauthorised frequencies that Royal Media Services acquired in the same manner between 2008 and 2012 are pending adjudication in the courts.
Section 35 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, outlaws the setting up and operation of communications apparatus without authorisation from CCK.
Addressing the media on Saturday, CCK Director General Francis Wangusi said the illegal transmitters were causing interferences to broadcasters in Kenya and the region, and interfering with avionic communication thus threatening the safety of Kenya's airspace.
"In some instance the interferences are so intense that the services of other broadcasters using duly authorised frequencies have been rendered completely inoperable," said Wangusi.
He added that the safety of our airspace was under threat as these illegal transmitters had on a number of occasions caused interferences to communication between pilots and the control tower at our main airports.
The Commission shall in the next few days shut down the remaining 11 illegal stations to ensure that all players in the broadcasting sector operate within the law.
CCK is the only state organ charged with the responsibility of managing Kenya's frequency spectrum. Central management of the frequency spectrum is critical in ensuring orderly exploitation of this scarce and limited resource, and to avoid interferences among various spectrum users.
All spectrum users, therefore, are required to operate under a licence issued by CCK and which must be kept in force through adherence to the operational parameters stipulated in the licence. Wangusi said the grab up of frequencies had no place in Kenya, in view of the existing institutional framework in place for managing frequencies.
Unauthorised use of spectrum amounts to an act of impunity and flies in the face of the regulatory requirement to provide an equal platform for all players. It also denies the regulator of spectrum resources to address the policy objectives of plurality and diversity, and to cater for devolution requirements as envisaged in the constitution.