Kenya’s Information minister is reviewing sector guidelines to bring over the top services such as Whatsapp and Facebook under regulation amidst complains by telecom operators over unfair competition.
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said the new National ICT Sector Policy Guidelines will also dictate the practices within which Mobile Virtual Network Service Operators (MVNO) such as Equitel will operate.
Locally, telecom firms have complained of Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber eating into their revenues despite not being subjected to local taxes. The telcos also say that over the top companies do not have infrastructure locally yet they compete unfairly by offering same voice and text services.
In setting up the new plan, three working groups at the ministry will oversee infrastructure issues, new emerging issues as well as applications and content.
Kenya's relative stability and above average GDP growth has attracted investors including controversial US tech firms whose disruptive characteristics have unsettled traditional players and called for the need to review regulations.
“We want the final draft complete by June, the policy should be up and running by early next year,” said Mr Mucheru at a briefing Thursday, “we are taking into account rapid industry changes as we meet performance target obligation of the ministry of reviewing the National ICT Sector Policy Guidelines of 2006 as per the ministry’s 2014/2015 performance contract.”
The review if successful will see Kenya see make history around the globe as it finally settles on regulating OTT players, a topic that has been controversial.
The entry of US video streaming service Netflix as well as US online taxi firm Uber, saw controversies stalk regulators as existing players demanded a fair playing field. Mucheru said that these firms will be clustered within three sectors for ease of regulations and effective operations.
“We are currently having court cases that do not make sense, the new policies will ensure that such cases are avoided,” said Mucheru, “For instance how do we punish OTT players when they are here for business, which is good for us?”
In state governance, the policy will dictate a central office controlling all ICT functions. This was earlier proposed but has been tough to implement.
The government now training at least 400 fresh ICT graduates annually to ensure that they bring in new expertise in state agencies and ministries, for efficiency and cost cutting.