TELKOM KENYA DISCONNECTS VoIP CALLING CARD SEMA AS IT PUTS HEAT ON ITS INTERNATIONAL REVENUES

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Telkom Kenya has disconnected individuals and business using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling cards from making international calls.

Telkom whose exclusivity ended in June last year have done this by disconnecting a line they issued to ISP Kenya Limited through which Sema calling card holders were able to make international calls. Brian Longwe, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at ISP Kenya last week blamed Telkom Kenya for disconnecting the service that allowed Kenyans affordable international calls. Through the Sema calling card, a minute call to USA and Europe costs about Ksh 10.

Longwe said his company has a contractual agreement with Telkom over the service but the manner in which Telkom has behaved is a clear case of a breach of contract. “We met all the requirements to offer the services including paying Telkom Kenya in advance for the services they have now illegally cut-off”, said Longwe.

The Sema International calling card was introduced by ISP Kenya Limited in late January to overwhelming popularity throughout the country. It is a joint venture between ISP Kenya and Canadian based BMT North America. The Canadian company provides the technology backbone while ISP Kenya provides a back-end Internet link for the service and meets all the requirements to offer the service.

BMT’s Jay Shah expressed disappointment over the way Telkom Kenya has treated them and their customers. “We are disgusted with Telkom Kenya. We were providing a great telecommunications solutions – effective and cost-effective – and our customers were very happy”, Jay said.

“The customers were dialing a local number, for which we paid Telkom Kenya, then were switched automatically to ISP Kenya, for which we again paid Telkom Kenya, and an automated voice then asked for their PIN, authenticated the pin, read their balance, and then, when the destination number was entered, connected the call over VoIP,” lamented Jay while apologizing to customers for what he said is not their fault but Telkom’s.

Telkom’s action is like a case of hitting below the belt to turn away competition in the liberalized market. “They have delayed the introduction of their VoIP platform and in order to keep the market ready for them, they’ve taken an anti-competitive, heavy-handed approach, leveraging their muscle in an area where they feel only they should be the dominant player,” Longwe said. Longwe also say that his company has been overwhelmed with calls from unhappy customers wanting to know why Telkom Kenya disrupted the very popular and cost-effective service. “Now, instead of getting a low-cost international connection when customers use our Sema calling card, they hear a message telling them that the number they called is ‘no longer working‚ or disconnected’ ” said Longwe.

Telkom’s action also comes at a time when the telecommunications sector is experiencing major changes after the end of exclusivity and the door has opened for competition. Longwe said that in last September, the industry regulator Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) in the interest of providing affordable telecommunications in the country lifted all regulations and restrictions for VoIP. Then, in October, at the African VoIP Forum in Nairobi, CCK’s Director General Sammy Kirui said that three categories of VoIP calls would be allowed in Kenya. That is PC-to-PC calls, PC-to-phone calls, and phone-to-phone calls via VOIP. For phone-to-phone calls, CCK has said that it would be necessary to be a licensed provider, and further indicated that ISP licenses would be amended to facilitate Telkom’s post exclusivity development.

Within four weeks of Sema’s launch, the card has become popular all across the country with more than 20,000 sold in three denominations of Ksh 250, Ksh 500 and Ksh 1000.