TELECOMS

Kenyan Telcos Demand Stiff Penalties for Cable Vandals

Stakeholders in the telecommunications industry are calling for stiffer penalties for criminals caught tampering with fibre optic cables. With many telecoms operators currently counting losses of up to Sh20 million each year following a spate of network cuts, the industry is lobbying for longer jail time for people caught engaging in vandalism.

"In other countries, this is considered economic sabotage. These cuts have become a major problem for the country's networks, incurring huge losses in downtime and repairs," said Safaricom CEO, Mr Michael Joseph. Safaricom joins a growing list of operators, including Kenya Data Networks (KDN) and Telkom Kenya, who have been pushing for stiffer penalties for people caught vandalising cables or selling the product.

"I would go so far as to term it economic terrorism. These installations are actually part of the country's national infrastructure and any act carried out on them needs to be viewed in that light," said Telkom Kenya CEO, Mickael Ghossein.

Currently culprits, -- mostly individuals who hope to sell pieces of cable on the black market ,-- who are caught get away with small fines or minimal jail time. If the lobbying effort is successful, the practice would become a criminal act punishable with lengthy jail time and higher fines. But given the increase in cable cuts on Telkom Kenya's network, the firm on Wednesday said it was not ruling out the possibility of corporate sabotage.

Increased strategic cuts by evidently specialist technicians on both the firm's copper and fibre optic lines have served to fuel the fear that corporate saboteurs may be at play. The firm has repeatedly warned that such cuts erode the country's national security as they border on economic terrorism.

Other players in the industry, however, dispute the strong claim saying statistics show that most of the cuts are either made by road contractors or are attributable to poor network design. "We have not been affected as much and I would hesitate to call it corporate sabotage at this time," said Jamii Telecom chairman, Joshua Chepkwony.

The developments follow Telkom Kenya's announcement that it had arrested three prime suspects who are behind a number of service disruptions on its network. The firm was forced to employ new methods of catching culprits after its efforts to work with the police failed to bear fruit. On Wednesday, the firm announced that it has apprehended suspected masterminds in the North Rift region. Telkom Kenya conducted a joint operation led by Eldoret OCPD, Muindi Kioko, that netted the suspects.

In January, Telkom Kenya embarked on a community policing strategy which led to the recent arrests. Other operators such as KDN have been forced to hire security consultants in order to protect the integrity of their networks.

"Investigations confirm that the three masterminds have been facilitating the rising cases of copper cable vandalism as they appear to be the main financiers. Once vandalised, our cables are burned in clearings within a nearby forest to remove the rubber insulation and later sold to these masterminds for onward sale as scrap copper wire," said Ms Angela Ng'ang'a-Mumo, the Telkom Kenya head of corporate communications.

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