Why Cofek resigned from Government’s Digital Television Committee on July 11

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Ministry of ICT Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i : Cofek resigned from the Digital Television Committee on July 11 

On June 21, Cofek and the Government of Kenya announced a deal to withdraw our earlier court case against analogue signal switch-off until specific issues were addressed. At the meeting, both the Director General of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and the Cabinet Secretary for ICT were present.

Under the arrangement, Cofek was to spearhead negotiations on the country’s stalled digital migration. The Federation was to equally withdraw the court case on digital migration. On his part, the ICT Secretary was to obey the law in appointing the consumer representative to the CCK board even if the said appointee would not have been sponsored by Cofek.

Additionally, Cofek was to convene and chair a 9-member stakeholder forum that was to negotiate a new digital migration timeline and framework with the government-led Digital Television Committee (DTC).

While Cofek met all its’ expectations, the Government side did not honour even a single expectation. Instead of allowing formation of the Digital Migration Stakeholders Forum, for instance, MOICT only appointed Cofek as a member of the Digital Television Committee. Under the singularly revised arrangement, Cofek was to chair the consumer awareness sub-committee.

Save for one informal meeting on June 21 at the ICT Secretary’s office, we never attended any of the Digital Television Committee’s meetings. Eventually, Cofek formally resigned from membership of the said Committee on July 11.

As it came to emerge later, it is the very day on which we held the joint press conference that the ICT Secretary immediately broke his pledge to live within the rule of law by selectively quoting the law giving him powers under section 6(1)(f)(vii) of the Kenya Information Communications Act, 1998 – in appointing one Mr Francis Ngesa as a member of the Board of the CCK supposedly to represent consumer interest.

Like his predecessor, the ICT Secretary ignored section 6(2) of the Act which reads that the “Minister shall (and not may) have due regard to registered societies representing such matters in exercising his powers under this section”.

While we had our fair share of frustrations and poor handling by Government, and in keeping to our credibility threshold we kept to ourselves and never involved media. In contrast, the Government side engaged in an unusual public activism to the unfortunate extent of claiming that the “agreement” with Cofek had topped its’ “achievements” within the first 100 days of the Jubilee Government.

Last Friday, the Daily Nation carried the story attributed to the ICT Secretary which said in part that  “… following the agreement (with Cofek) issues like preparedness and pricing of set top boxes were easily ironed out”.

The People on Saturday carried the full statement by the ICT Secretary which confirmed our fears that the ICT Secretary has indeed been long on too many pledges and short on fulfilling them. Further, that the ICT Secretary has been playing an open-ended public relations exercise on a serious consumer issue. From the foregoing, we would like to state as follows;

(a)    We disown the recent statement by the ICT Secretary that digital migration “preparedness and pricing of set top boxes were easily ironed out” as fatally untrue, misleading and one that erodes public confidence in gigantic measure.

(b)   That even with the new proposed switch-off date for Nairobi of October 30, very few consumers will be able to switch to digital format as there are no indications that the set top boxes will retail at lower than Sh5,000 per unit. The National Treasury push around the controversial VAT Bill 2013 is evidence enough that Government is most unlikely to subsidize the gadgets. That means that the pricing will stand out as a key consumer issue.

(c)    That consumer awareness on digital migration remains another key challenge

(d)   That Cofek will not move back to Court to challenge the analogue switch-off. Our options will, however, remain open as regards all lawful means to ensure that the set-top boxes will not only be affordable but of good quality and that the digital frequency signals will be stable and accessible within all areas designated for analogue switch-off.

(e)    Since the ICT Ministry was not keen on having the CCK board consumer representation case withdrawn, and have displayed disregarded our common understanding, the case will have to go its’ full life and the High Court shall make a final determination.

(f)    In compliance with Section 94 of the Consumer Protection Act 2012 as read together with Article 46 of the Constitution, we demand that a consumer interest representative slot remain on the board of the CCK even as Kenya Information and Communication Bill seeks to remove the provision. We don’t mind competitive appointment process though.

(g)   We will, as a matter of principle, continue to engage with both MOICT and CCK as and whenever they will demonstrate real commitment to consumer protection.

Cofek will remain committed to consumer protection on the ICT sector including the need for the mobile termination rates (MTR) to be dropped to Sh1.15 as per the July 1 approved glide-path. We have also asked our lawyers to move to Court to seek for compensation for StarTimes consumers who are denied access to Free-To-Air channels. Thank you.

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