4 January 2014

Kenya: Cofek May Sue CCK Over Free-to-Air TV Channels

A regulation by Communications Commission of Kenya requiring pay television companies to switch off local channels for viewers who have defaulted in remitting their monthly fees has opened a new war front with Consumers Federation of Kenya.

The pay TV firms have adopted the regulation that will see subscribers who fail to pay their monthly fees lose access to other channels immediately, but continue viewing the six to seven must-carry free to air (FTA) local channels for a period of two weeks before they are blacked out.

Cofek however argued that the CCK had in a meeting held last July reassured that the local channels will not be switched off.

Citing article 35 of the constitution on right to information, Cofek secretary general Stephen Mutoro issued a 14-day ultimatum to the CCK to publicly clarify the regulation or face a fresh legal suit in the third week of this month.

"The CCK is using an Act of Parliament to deny Kenyans a constitutional right to information which can only be achieved by the local stations," he said.

Mutoro further accused the regulator of "favouring private sector over consumers", adding that TV viewers have been short-changed on availability of free to air channels.

CCK's director for consumer and public affairs Mutua Muthusi however said the new regulations applies to pay TV subscribers and that those with FTA set top boxes will continue accessing the six to seven must-carry FTA channels without further charges.

"This is misrepresentation of facts which is mischievous," Muthusi said in reaction to a story published on the Business Daily. "Why would anyone want to see free channels on pay TV? That can only be found on set-top boxes which attracts a one-off cost."

He said the new regulation was prompted by the fact that most TV viewers have been convinced to buy pay TV decoders more than FTA set top boxes.

Muthusi said the new requirement favours viewers on normal decoders as it allows them two weeks of accessing the local news channels before they are switched off.

GOtv Kenya, a subsidiary of South Africa's Multichoice, and Chinese-owned StarTimes said the deal with the CCK was arrived at last month after extensive discussions.

"The CCK approached the pay TV companies asking for an appropriate grace period we could give customers who default so they are not switched off immediately from the local channels," GOtv Kenya general manager Felix Kyengo said.

The two companies reassured their Pay TV subscribers they will have a grace period of two weeks after the beginning of a new month to clear their arrears.

GOtv is running a two-month free subscription promotion while StarTImes offer a month of free access to its unique banquet.

The mandatory switch-off of the digital television broadcasting signal in Nairobi earlier set for December 26 has been postponed pending a determination of a case before court of appeal by three local broadcasters challenging it. The case will be heard on February 6.

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