Telkom Lodges SMS Petition Against Safaricom in Kenya
In the fight for control of Kenya's lucrative telecoms industry, competition is becoming a useful weapon in the hands of rival firms -especially those that need to play the catch-up game to remain in the race.
This market share war has become so intense that players are breaking all boundaries in the corporate rulebook.
Five months ago, mobile phone service provider Celtel took its bigger and only rival Safaricom before the market regulator, accusing it of playing unfairly in the market to the disadvantage of the consumer.
Now it is the national operator Telkom's turn to lodge a landmark complaint against its subsidiary -Safaricom.
In its letter to Mr John Waweru, the Communications Commission of Kenya director general, Telkom Kenya is accusing Safaricom of practising anti-competitive behaviour in the market -especially in the Short Messages Services (SMS) segment of the business.
Telkom says Safaricom has been blocking the exchange of SMSs between the two networks, thereby denying its customers access to key services that the national operator is offering such as the one that enables them to check their voter registration details with the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).
"Telkom Kenya is concerned that Safaricom is engaging in anti-competitive behaviour and in essence abusing its dominant market position by introducing barriers to new entrants targeting SMS market segment," Telkom says.
Public attention was first drawn to the matter after some Safaricom subscribers complained that Safaricom was charging them for undelivered SMSs to Telkom Kenya's Wireless network. SMSs to Telkom network got an automatic reply indicating that delivery had failed yet the consumers were being billed.
Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph acknowledged that some of its subscribers had sent messages to Telkom Kenya during the test period and may have been charged erroneously.
He said that although the company was not billing SMSs to Telkom Wireless network between August 13 and August 27, some of its customers may have been billed. Safaricom later agreed to refund the affected subscribers.
Telkom says that on August 16, the two interconnectivity negotiating parties met and agreed on interconnection rate and a technical testing schedule.
During this period the parties also exchanged SMS test templates to be adopted in the tests. Safaricom has however not cooperated in facilitating the process, making it unable to commercialise the service.
The matter seems to have reached fever pitch after Safaricom introduced a voter registry query service similar to the one Telkom Kenya had rolled out after it won an ECK tender.
Telkom Kenya is complaining that failure by Safaricom to activate the SMS service is affecting its ability to use an innovative platform that delivers voter registry query services by utilizing the 460 numeric to access the ECK database.
Telkom Kenya says Safaricom acted maliciously in delaying to activate the SMS service only to launch a similar service.
"We are perturbed that Safaricom, having not been involved in the initial tender process is currently able to provide a similar services using the 460 prefix. This is a totally unacceptable anti-competitive behaviour," Telkom says.
Mr Joseph declined to comment on the matter saying it was already before an arbiter.
Telkom Kenya is the majority shareholder at Safaricom with a 60 per cent stake. It co-owns the company with the United Kingdom's Vodafone Plc which has a 40 per cent stake in the firm.