On Wednesday this week, the Senate ICT Committee had a meeting ICT industry stakeholders to discuss industry views on items the Senate should focus on in its current session.
The meeting was held online and attendance by the Committee members as well as industry was good. The deliberations included requests for the senate to look into various issues highlighted below:
Especially at county level. It was noted that most counties do not have as much connectivity as Nairobi County. Speeds had doubled before COVID but speeds have now decreased yet most Government online services and learning services, run on 4G network which is patchy across the country and only available in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret but coverage in Nairobi and some urban areas is not coverage nationally.
High Cost of Devices
There were several concerns raised about the current cost of 4G enabled devices- most affordable is around USD 40 (KES4000), a price out of reach for most Kenyans as around 40% of the Kenyan population living below the poverty line.
Further, most of these devices are imported from China and lock down has affected importation of devices. Kenya needs to figure out how to manufacture affordable 4G devices locally.
Questions around USF and Last Mile Connectivity
Both parliament and industry stakeholders are concerned about the utilization (or lack thereof) of USF a find domiciled at the Communications Authority and paid for by telco sector licensees. It is currently not clear how the universal fund is being used to increase connectivity as well as 4G coverage across the country something Kenya really needs especially in this season of COVID disruption, work and school from home.
We may need legislative intervention to encourage last mile connectivity. It was noted that some counties are charging an arm and a leg for way leaves. There is a great need to ensure there is a standardized cost of laying cables and enhancing connectivity.
The last national censors conducted in 2019 showed that Kenya only has 3 million e-commerce users, who are basically found in most urban areas yet nationally we have been asking counties to leverage on ICTs.
Government along with industry stakeholders have a lot of work to do to ensure eGovernment, eCommerce and eLearning is being used at county and subcounty level.
We need to enhance public participation on ICT sector issues for the benefit of the entire republic.
5G and Concerns about COVID
It was noted that the World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the IMF encourage digital acceleration and transformation. As Kenya, we need to lay down proper frameworks to ensure all digital transformation can be maintained post covid so we can keep benefits post covid.
On questions and concerns about whether 5G causes Corona virus, Industry clarified that corona virus is a biological disease that resides in humans and animals and is not caused technology. This is also the position as articulated by WHO.
It was also clarified that 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G all use the same safe low frequency electromagnetic waves. 5G has been designed to reduce the amount of energy reaching an end user and therefore enables increased connectivity speeds.
5G is currently not a hot topic in Kenya because of the potential economic benefits tare not yet quantified. Other countries like India and Thailand have done studies on potential benefits of 5G technology for their nations. An Australia study even quantified differences based on whether 5G is rolled out slowly or quickly. These national studies are guiding the roll out in those countries. Kenya should consider doing a similar study so as to ensure the nation reaps the benefits of technology advancements.
It was noted that the CA is currently developing a 5G road map related to spectrum management. This is fine but we also need to do a broader national study, that covers learning, health and other spheres of living, not just spectrum.
The Senate was urged to lead or pave the way. 5G in Kenya will be very different from 5G in other nations but we would have to do studies to ensure we get the figures and facts right for discussion and public engagement.
Why 5G Would Matter For Kenya
Uptake of 5G could result in huge cost benefits for industry, making it easier to deliver internet connection to consumers, thus savings are passed on to the consumer.
It would also connect homes and business. As per CA only 53,000 homes and businesses are currently connected to fiber in Kenya.
5G can also play an important role connecting schools, health centers and police stations. 5G is more important for insertions and digital transformation and industrial uses.
Spectrum & Market Entry Issues
Sentiments from industry were that Kenya has a lot of spectrum available that is not being used. This means either price is too high or the spectrum is not on offer.
Even though Kenya has a history of spectrum abuse, the current price makes it harder for new players to enter market. The cost of building a mobile network is not just infrastructure but includes marketing, spectrum costs etc. The high cost of spectrum hinders new entrants to the market.
Government Enterprise Architecture
We need to eliminate duplication of solutions and fragmentations in the technology environment together with leveraging the efficiencies of on demand provisioning of ICT services.
The Senate needs to help push stakeholder engagement in government circles to ensure that citizens continue to get services remotely, as we have seen COVID affecting lands, PSC and all other Government offices.
In the debate on data protection locally or out of country, industry urged the Senate to separate data localization and data sovereignty to allow increased Government uptake of cloud services.
What next from Senate?
The session was fruitful and Senate ICT committee stated that each committee member would take up one or two of the issues to champion. Issues would be picked based on Committee member interest and proximity of effect to their people.
Sen Gideon Moi, chair of the Committee will be championing 5G.