No free frequencies for county FM stations

Tuesday March 1 2016

Mr Tom Olwero the director frequency spectrum

Mr Tom Olwero the director frequency spectrum management at the Communications Authority on February 24, 2016 at Hilton Hotel, Nairobi discussing spectrum allocation with stakeholders. PHOTO | LILLIAN OCHIENG 

By MOSES ODHIAMBO
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County governments are yet to set up radio stations that governors promised three years ago when they took office.

The stations were aimed at helping the county bosses spread information on devolution.

According to the plans, they were to be set up alongside television stations, with the devolved units also publishing magazines and newspapers, a move that would cost counties billions of shillings.

Nairobi, Kiambu, Vihiga, Kwale, Meru, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Mandera, Busia, Machakos, Murang’a, Kakamega and Bomet are some of the counties that had announced the plans.

However, none of the counties has yet set up the stations.

Nairobi allocated Sh50 million for the project in the budget estimates for the 2014/2015 financial year, but is yet to set up the planned City Hall FM.

Vihiga, which announced the plans last year, is yet to implement them.

The county was recently put on the spot by an assembly investigating committee for allegedly building a latrine for Sh11 million for staff to work at the station. The workers are yet to be employed.

NO FREE FREQUENCIES

Sources privy to discussions on the way forward for the stations say the governors’ dream may not be fulfilled.

It has emerged that the country has no free frequencies to be allocated to the county FM stations. There are also a raft of policy challenges.

“There are no new frequencies that can accommodate the 47 counties’ radio stations,” the source, who asked not to be named owing to the sensitivity of the matter, told the Nation on Monday.

At the same time, the Government is said to have issued all frequencies, including those of the military as well as those of the aviation industry.

According to data from the Communications Authority of Kenya, the number of FM radio frequencies rose to 529 in 2013 from 387 the previous year.

These were controlled by 103 radio stations as at September 2013.

The governors’ troubles also come in the face of legal hurdles in attempts by the Government to restore redundant frequencies.

Some of these frequencies are believed to be hoarded by those who acquired them, yet they are not in use.

At the moment, applications for new frequencies are going on but none are being issued except for digital television.

Therefore, counties are affected by the bottlenecks faced by the communications regulator to free up frequencies for county governments’ use.

“In fact, many newcomers are only buying from entities which had been allocated old frequencies that are not in use,” the source said.

At the same time, there is no clear policy framework within which the county radio stations would operate.

The policy was expected to check on the excesses of the political environment that would have subjected the radio stations to abuse by county bosses.

“There is a possibility of a governor taking up the radio stations as their personal property, which does not give room for dissenting opinions to be aired through the same channels,” said the source.

The Council of Governors’ ICT Committee chairman, Mr Ken Lusaka, agreed that they have challenges with setting up the radio stations.

“We are discussing the way out at the council,” he told the Nation on the phone.