March 5, 2021 - 5 minutes read

Universal Service Fund: A conversation between CA & the Senate

By Acha Ouma

This week, members of the Senate ICT Committee has a conversation with the Communications Authority on the utilization of the Universal Service Fund(USF). The USF is a fund that is funded by telecommunications service providers as part of the terms and conditions of licence. The fund is to be used for roll out of telecommunication infrastructure and services to areas that do not have enough persons to justify commercial investment. All infrastructure rolled out under USF is to be shared among all service providers interested in offering services in areas that have benefitted from the fund. The fund is central to Universal Access of telecommunications services across Kenya and extremely critical for other universal access to other government services that ride on telecommunications and ICT including e-Citizen, educational and health. 

Senators present at the meeting included Sen. Moi Gideon Moi ( Chairperson ), Sen. Halake Abshiro (Vice Chairperson), Sen. Lokorio Petronila Were and Sen. Nderitu John Kinyua. From the CA we had Mercy Wanjau (Ag. DG), Christopher Kemei, Priscah Motogwa and Moses Kenyanchui. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the status of the implementation of projects in the phase three (3) of the Universal Service Fund (USF).

 

CA’s Presentation

The CA was appearing before the Committee to appraise them on the progress of Phase 3 USF Projects. 

The D. G’s presentation focused on: 

  • Mandate of CA
  • Roll-out of ICT connectivity in the country
  • Preparatory activities for Phase 3 of the Connectivity Project in Un-served/underserved areas
  • Estimated cost and expected areas to be covered under Phase 3
  • Highlights on USF projects.
  • Opportunities for collaboration 

The D.G began her presentation by outlining the mandates of the CA as follows: 

  • Licensing communication services
  • Protection of consumers
  • Promote, develop and enforce fair competition
  • Ensuring compliance
  • Cyber Security & E-Commerce
  • Manage Radio Spectrum, Numbering & Domain Resources
  • Development & Adoption of Standards
  • Facilitating Universal Access to ICTs
  • Facilitation of Broadcasting

In regards to the management of the USF, she noted that CA is mandated to manage and administer the fund. The Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC) that is appointed through a competitive process provides advisory role to the CA Board.

 

A Walk Down History Lane 

The CA provided statistics on connectivity access gaps in 2016 including:

  • 94.4% of population covered by 2G
  • 5.6% unserved (2.66 Million projection)
  • 78% population covered by 3G
  • 17% of the land area covered
  • 5,657 out of 7,149 sub-locations fully covered
  • 418 sub-locations with less than 50% population coverage
  • 164 sub-locations with 0% coverage. 

Circling Back to the Present: ICT Access gap status in 2021

Per CA, the statistics for the access gaps in Kenya in 2021 include:

  • 96% of the population is covered:
  • In most parts 2G has been replaced by 4G
  • The Gap has shrunk from 5.6% unserved in 2016 to 4% in 2021
  • Broadband data (3/4G) gap has shrunk from 22.2% in 2016 to just 5% presently
  • Phase 2&3 of the connectivity projects for un-served/underserved areas shall further drive down the access gaps. 

IMPORTANT FIGURES 

Summary of Phase 1 Connectivity Project 

Operators Awarded Lots Sub-locations Completed
Safaricom PLC 24 50 46
Telkom Kenya Ltd 10 28 26
Total 34 78 72

The DG noted that the gap was due to security issues in the surrounding environments in some of the areas.

Summary of Areas to be covered in Phase 2 -101 Sub-locations in 18 Counties

County  Sub-locations County Sub-locations
Baringo 6 Tana River 4
Garissa 10 Turkana 18
Kajiado 8 West Pokot 14
Kilifi 6 Wajir 3
Kitui 5 Elgeyo-Marakwet 1
Laikipia 3 Isiolo 3
Mandera 3 Marsabit 13
Narok 2 Samburu 4
Lamu 1

 

Financial Cost of the USF Projects – FY 2020-2021

Approved USF Voice Infrastructure Projects FY 2020/21 Status
Cellular Mobile Network Infrastructure & Services Phase 1  124,535,000.00 Pending payments
Cellular Mobile Network Infrastructure & Services Phase 2 981,592,000.00 Tendered and Contracts awarded
Cellular Mobile Network Infrastructure & Services Phase 3 675,000,000.00 Under design before tendering
Cellular Mobile Network Infrastructure & Services Phase 4 360,000,000.00 Under design before tendering

 

Other ICT Connectivity Projects 

Sector/Org Nature of Project Estimated

(Ksh)

Status
Law Enforcement

(NPS)

Automation of National Police Services (NPS) – Occurrence Book, Crime Management and Resource management Systems 221,176,000 Ongoing
Education (Public Secondary Schools) Broadband Connectivity in e-ready Public Secondary Schools (884) – Pilot project 820,913,000 Completed
Education Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) Kenya Education Cloud Open Resource Portal for KICD 380,000,000 To be Tendered
Education (Public Secondary Schools) Education Broadband Connectivity Phase 2  844,000,000 Under Consideration
Education (Special Schools) Content and Devices Project for PWDs 500,000,000 Under Consideration
Judiciary  Structural Cabling (LAN) in all the Law Courts 250,000,000 Under Consideration
Ministry of Health  Connectivity & Digitization within the Health Sector to facilitate provision of E-Health and remote services throughout the country 498,320,000 Under Consideration
IEBC Provide 3.4G coverage in all remote polling stations for electronic transmission of election results TBD Under Consideration
Broadcasting  Baseline Survey for the Broadcasting sector in the country 10,000,000 Contract awarded
Postal Broadcasting Survey for Postal and Courier Services in Kenya 15,000,000 Contract awarded. 

 

Preparatory Activities for Phase 3 & Phase 4

In accelerating the roll out of Phase 3, the DG indicated that the CA has identified about 71 sub-locations that are yet to be covered as of 2021. She indicated that the sub-locations, although falling under operators’ coverage obligations the coverage realization would take more time and have therefore been earmarked for Phase 3 intervention.

The Access Gaps update is being undertaken by CA in partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (UKaid). The access gaps to be identified shall form the scope of Phase 4.

 

Legislative and Policy opportunities for collaboration with ICT Committee

The DG welcomed the support and guidance given by the committee over time. She noted that the discussions with the Committee helped in initiating some of the collaborations such as on security with the interior and regional commissioners. Other areas of collaborations to be carried out include: 

  • Assistance in fostering collaboration especially with National and County Governments
  • Collaboration in ensuring successful implementation of ICT projects
  • Assistance in the process of designation of ICT as National Critical Infrastructure for appropriate protection. 

Concerns From the Committee

  • The Committee that operators contribute 0.5% of their turnover to USF and asked how much each operator contribute. The DG however indicated that they are in the process of getting the data and statistics on that. 
  • The Committee also enquired on whether the money is lying around and the rate of absorption. The DG noted that there was no money lying idle. The projects have estimated costs and provisions have been made. The absorption rate had gone up in the last season. Projects set up as phase 2 and phase 3 are now rolling projects they are crossing years and they will ensure they continue to absorb. She however noted that the absorption has faced some challenges.  For instance, in the broadband for schools, the inability to close the governance arrangement with the Ministry has held them back. Nevertheless, they are still making effort. Phase 3 and 4 being developed is also expected to drive up absorption.  
  • The Committee enquired on the criteria used when selecting the area used. It was noted that the areas chosen are the ‘marginalized areas’. The senator also enquired on the connectivity in schools and availability of devices in schools. The DG noted that indeed the big concerns in schools is devices which are not upgraded. The CA is however working with the Ministry of Education to ensure the training of teachers and upgrade of computers and devices. 
  • The Committee enquired on whether the USF will be enabler of e-divide as some places are going for sophisticated connections while others are still grappling with issues. The DG noted that they have been working with partners on various issues. She indicated that for instance, in mapping out schools, the criteria used was guided by the Ministry of Education.  From Phase 1, they learnt that there is a real issue on digital divide especially on schools. It led them to look for partner who would help in the infrastructure for schools that do not have the structures. The Senator also recommended that more areas such as trade and agriculture should not be forgotten. There is need for economic empowerment of the people so that they are not fully dependent on the government. 

 

The Committee applauded the efforts of the CA Team in putting in place a comprehensive presentation and appreciated the DG’s presentation. 

Spread the love