Kenya's Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC) has been inaugurated by Dr. Fred Matiang'I, Cabinet Secretary, Information, Communications and Technology.
The USAC board members - who were appointed on May 9, 2014 for a 3-year term - are Catherine Ngahu (chairperson), Josephine Chepkurui Towett, James Long'ole Wangiros, Rodah Awinja Masaviru, J. Kennedy Odiwuor Okong'o, Nixon Mageka Gecheo, Wellington Pakia Godo, Samuel Gitonga Mutungi and Michael Maina Itote.
Speaking while inaugurating the 9-meber board, Matiang'i said: "Members of the Advisory Council underwent a rigorous appointment process and I believe we have the best people with the right expertise for the job."
The USAC board will oversee and provide strategic policy guidance in the implementation of the Universal Service Fund (USF) which was established under the Kenya Information and Communications Act of 1998 and as amended in 2009 and 2013. The Act also mandates the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) to administer and manage the USF.
Matiang'i noted that despite the rapid growth of ICT services in the country, the disparity in availability and access to telecoms services between rural and urban areas continues to widen. "While the private sector has an important role to play in meeting universal access, there is need for government to promote investments in un-served and underserved areas through various initiatives including Universal Service Fund," he added.
The USF is expected to play a key role in subsidizing the cost of ICT infrastructure roll out and expansion in these un-served and underserved areas. It will be primarily financed through mandatory contributions by licensed operators, the Communications Authority and any other complementary sources.
The CA in the financial year 2013/2014 contributed Ksh1 Billion into the Fund as seed money and has so far collected a total of Ksh 45 million out of the expected Kshs 800 Million from communication service providers.
CA Director General Francis Wangusi said the Authority has over the years partnered with various institutions to carry out pilot projects in several rural parts of the country to facilitate access to ICT services.
In particular, the partnership with the Nairobi Provincial Medical Office that witnessed computerization of selected health centers, and with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to digitize the Kenya Secondary Education curriculum.
In addition, he said the Authority has worked with institutions that serve Persons with Disabilities to establish ICT centers in eight (8) schools across the country as well as the establishment of community telecenters in Chwele (Bungoma), Mutomo, Eldama Ravine and Kitundu (Makueni).
The CA chairman Ngene Gituku informed the USAC members that the Authority carried out several studies on access gaps in particular the National ICT Survey and the ICT Access Gap study in a bid to better understand the ICT environment in the country.
Gituku further stated that a USF Framework that was developed by the Authority's Management provides a mechanism for managing and administering the Fund as well as outlining the criteria for project selection. The Chairman asked the Management team to fast track the development of the Universal Service Fund Regulations to conform to the enacted Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act, 2013.
On her part, Ms. Catherine Ngahu, USAC Chairperson, noted that the Council is committed to effectively and efficiently overseeing the implementation of projects that will increase penetration of ICT services to over 90% of the country.