[Documents menu]  Documents menu

Kenyans Flock Cyber-Cafes To Make International Calls

The Nation 6 February 2001

Nairobi - Most Kenyans are flocking mushrooming cyber-cafes and phone bureaus to make cheap long-distance calls. A survey by BusinessWeek revealed that for as little as Sh10 a minute, one can make a call (voice chat) to the US or any other part of the world through the Internet (netphones).

And the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector has pushed the industry's growth fast, far beyond the capacity and ability of the regulatory authority.

And role conflicts are beginning to emerge in the regulation of the sector, which by law is supposed to be carried out by the Communications Commission of Kenya.

Telkom Kenya, the successor of the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, still enjoys a monopoly in the provision of satellite link for Internet connectivity. However, a recent case where it disconnected an Internet lease-line serving a cybercafe belonging to a leading retail chain in one of Nairobi's suburbs has raised questions over the legality of the move.

It is understood that on learning about the international phone operations by the cybercafe - through the Internet-based voice chat facilities - Telkom dispatched personnel to withdraw the cybercafe's lease-line.

It is not difficult to understand why Telkom Kenya - headed by Mr. Augustine Cheserem - is jittery over the mushrooming cyber-cafes in the country. Sources told BusinessWeek that the increasingly popular Internet voice chat had eaten into Telkom's revenue base, further complicating matters for the state-owned corporation, which is faced with stiff competition following an announcement by mobile phone firms that they would soon introduce public payphones.

But the cybercafe incident and last week's closure and confiscation by the CCK of VSAT (very small aperture terminals) satellite facilities belonging to a company operating from View Park Towers is a clear testimony to the fact the effect of liberalisation in the telecommunication sector has gone beyond the regulatory authority's capacity.

Internet telephony, in a particular, has overridden the traditional regulations and barriers imposed by governments on telecommunications sector. For instance, in Kenya, the Communications Commission of Kenya Act requires that all telecommunication service providers be registered and licensed by the authority.

Even with the entry of the mobile phone operators in the local marketplace, the interconnectivity between the existing networks is still provided by Telkom Kenya, which also owns Jambonet, the country's sole Internet connection.