Airtel says playing field uneven in telco sector

Says there is an opportunity to create a level playing field

In Summary
  • Regulation guarantees customers the right of choice, accessibility, affordability and quality of service
  • Government should offer a variety of payment platforms in order to allow consumer choice
Airtel Kenya CEO Prasanta Das Sarma.
Airtel Kenya CEO Prasanta Das Sarma.
Image: FILE

The information and communications technology market in the country does not enjoy fair competition, telecommunications service provider Airtel Kenya has said.

Airtel Kenya, which is ranked second in market share among operators in the country, told senators that Safaricom has prevented fair competition to take hold in the ICT sector.

In submissions to the Senate Departmental Committee on Communication, Information and Innovation, the company however said there is an opportunity of creating a level playing field that “will lead to a more competitive market and corresponding acceleration of market development and GDP growth”.

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), which also made submissions to the committee, said the government should offer a variety of payment platforms to allow consumer choice.

“Likoni Ferry is a good example of those who only allow payments by M-Pesa, without allowing payments from cash, debit/credit cards and other Kenyan mobile money providers,” Kepsa said.

According to the Communications Authority, Safaricom has the biggest share of the Kenya mobile telecommunication market at 64 per cent, Airtel (27 per cent), Telkom Kenya (6 per cent) and others (3 per cent) as at December 2020.

Airtel Kenya said there has been no dispute as to the status of Safaricom as regards its dominance status and market power.

“However, there has been reluctance in declaring Safaricom dominant in the retail mobile market and the retail mobile money market. Declaring Safaricom dominant is the first step to ensuring market competitiveness which we believe has been the sticking point and key barrier in taking any steps to rectify any market anomalies in Kenya,” it said.

The company added that a notion has been perpetuated that declaring Safaricom a dominant player is punishing success, which “in our view is blatantly myopic.”

The company said regulation in the sector is needed because uneven playing field conditions slow the pace of investment in the industry and impede progress towards expanding the economy and alleviation of poverty in the general population.

“Regulation is known to attract investment in the sector thereby creating competition from new players,” the company said.

“Regulation guarantees customers the right of choice, accessibility, affordability and quality of service.”

The committee had invited Airtel to make submissions on its views on the measures, if any, that the government should put in place to ensure a level playing field and competitive sector for players in the telecommunications industry across voice, data and mobile money platforms.

It was also to provide views on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the sharing of infrastructure and suggest legislative and policy interventions that would strengthen mobile money interoperability and foster financial inclusivity.

Airtel Kenya further added that spectrum allocation is skewed towards the dominant player.

“The dominant player holds 32.5 MHz more spectrum than Airtel and 45MHz more spectrum than Telkom. Despite investing heavily in the network to improve customer experience, we continue to grapple with lack of spectrum, especially in 4G which as advised by CA is unavailable, yet the dominant player holds excessive spectrum,” the company added.

Kepsa said interoperability in the sector is important to enable consumer choice.

“This is a matter that should involve the banking sector, their payment partners, and the fintech sector just as much as it involves mobile money providers,” it said.

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