The appetite to own a mobile phone is still very high in every part of Kenya, hence this is one of the fastest growing markets for the facility in the world.

But it is also a region with a very high 'flashing' rate as well. According to the Informa Telecoms & Media's World Cellular Information Service, in August 2005 a Kenyan GSM network estimated four million flash calls were initiated daily from its network.

This indicates that despite the high subscription rates, tariffs affordability remained a big problem. Mobile phone users in Tanzania have resulted to a 'flash language'; where for instance flashing once may mean "I am on the way"; flash twice "I am waiting downstairs"; flash thrice "I am at home" etc.

Flashing, said to be a widespread in Africa, led to flashback services being implemented in several countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon.

But the problem of the consumers is not only high tariffs but also quality of the service as well. Traditionally, consumer protection has been addressed through licensing alone- where unique provisions are embedded in an operating license or regulations, intended to generically protect consumers and new competitors alike.

The purpose of liberalising state-run monopolies to private, competitive service providers is to increase the number of providers, and thereby increase quality, quantity, types of service, and decrease costs to the consumer.

Rather than expect consumers to read dense regulatory and licensing language, by distilling the information into a Consumers' Code, regulators can empower consumers to protect their own rights.

According to a USAid publication, consumer empowerment entails creation of a body of consumer protection policies that assume direct involvement of the consumer.

The underlying assumption is that consumers are best protected if they are empowered to defend their own rights, which is also the European Union policy.

The failures of consumer protection have a direct negative impact on the cost and trustworthiness of a country's telecommunications infrastructure.

As a start-up ISPs practise honesty in trading, high standards of service, fair competition, legal and responsible trading, acceptable use policy, respect of confidentiality, unrestricted and open interconnection, dispute resolution, and prohibit illegal and harmful content.

International bandwidth cost reduction benefits, such as that expected this month, and license fees reductions should be passed on to the consumers.

Genuine self-regulation must be distinguished from "corporate social responsibility".

Currently, GSM companies need only notify CCK and apply new tariffs. With a GSM duopoly, the vulnerable consumer is left with a very limited choice of providers.

While fixed telephony is subject to a price cap formula it is unclear under what terms mobile prepaid subscribers get services from the companies. Many ISPs are known to decline, delay, or only issue service level agreements to "troublesome" clients.

Internet services are negotiated; but the question whether the consumer makes informed consent remains. As the Minister for Information, Mutahi Kagwe stated recently, the preferred regulatory recipe is one flavouring a blend of industry self-regulation and official legal enforcement.

The Nation