Kenya: State Allows 'Free TV' to Charge Fees for Now

Regulation & Policy

The Ministry of Information and the Communication Commission of Kenya have defended pay-tv service providers for not offering the free-to-air content for free. The two digital pay-tv providers, StarTimes and GOtv have been criticised by consumers for including the local broadcast channels, supposed to be free, in the paid-for packages.

Ideally, all consumers with set-top-boxes should be able to watch free-to-air channels even when their subscription has expired but this has not been the case. The ministry and the regulator say they are still consulting and giving the service providers more time as the digital migration is still in its early stages.

"You see they make their money from subscriptions, so if you are not paying, how will they be in business," said Alfred Ambani, a director of multimedia services at CCK. This has been the only reason given so far. Bruce Madete, senior director of administration at the information ministry said: "We are still consulting with all the stakeholders on the way forward on this recognising that access to information is every Kenyans' constitutional right.

Last month, CCK announced revision of DVBT2 boxes requirements making the conditional access feature optional for set top boxes intended for free-to-air content and mandatory for devices intended for subscription TV. This is meant to encourage importation of more equipment that exclusively support free-to-air channels so that consumers do not have to be tied up to the subscription based boxes.

The revision is also expected to cut the cost of free-to-air only boxes by about a half. Ambani said more vendors have recently started selling set-top boxes after this change and CCK will approve more importers soon. Currently, only four vendors are licensed to sell the approved DVB-T2 decoders. These are Professional Digital System, Microville Solutions selling free-to-air boxes and pay-tv providers StarTimes Media and Multichoice.

Meanwhile the government insists it will not intervene in the pricing of set-top boxes despite concerns that the high cost of the devices may derail migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting. The boxes were exempted from 25 per cent tax in this year's national budget. The regulator and ministry said it will be left to market forces to bring it down as demand rises.