Chances are you have heard of the Communication Authority of Kenya, the Kenya regulatory entity for the communication sector. However, you are likely to know little about its affiliated entity called Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC)
The USAC may be less known but it controls huge amount of money collected for ensuring that communication services reach all the corners of Kenya, particularly those that maybe deemed un-economical by the commercial Telco operators.
These huge amounts are accrued from charging each operator, one per cent of their gross annual revenue as a universal service levy that goes into the Universal Service Fund (USF) kitty. For example, Sh900 million from Safaricom’s Sh90 billion collected last financial year belongs to them.
If you consider that there are over ten licensed operators, including Internet Service Providers and broadcasters, you get to appreciate that the USAC is sitting on quite some good amount of money.
If you sum up the amount collected over the last five years of USAC operations, you begin to get a sense of how big this Universal Service Fund might be.
But what do they do with all this money?
If money is left idle in some kitty over long periods of times, our usual suspects, the politicians begin to get ideas of how it can be utilised.
The Communication & Information Act, in part (2) of its section 84J states that:
The object and the purpose of the Universal Service Fund shall be to support widespread access to, support capacity building and promote innovation in information and communications technology services.
In 2016, the USAC commissioned a study to establish which parts of the country were the most marginalised in terms of communications services in order to inform which counties, constituencies and wards would be the best beneficiaries of the fund.
Four years later, there seems to be nothing in the public domain in terms of the extent to which the identified locations were benefitted through affordable communication services.
With the current Covid-19 challenges that require work, learning and playing from home, it may be a good idea to utilise some of these funds to assist citizens perform their duties online.
Specifically, the educational sector is rife with disadvantages where the children of the rich continue learning through the Internet while the majority remain offline because they do not have either the access to devices or cannot afford the cost of access. For example, many public universities have not been able to move classes online. While a majority of students in public universities may have smart phones, they come from remote sections of Kenya, where their parents cannot afford to pay Sh4,000 per month to get the pre-requisite broadband link that can sustain educational content.
the council should consider using part of its many billions of shillings to support university students resume learning using the Internet and various digital platforms.
Such use of taxpayers’ money is not only a good thing to do, but also a clever thing to do since it pre-empts the potential raid that will eventually come from the politicians once they get to know that there is some pile of money lying idle somewhere.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu