The price of the third mobile telephone licence will be determined by auction. And the figure could be higher or lower than what was paid by the two existing operators, said regulator Communications Commission of Kenya.KenCell Communications and Safaricom Ltd both paid USD55 million (Sh4.1 billion) each for their licences.

CCK Director-General Sammy Kirui assured service providers that the Government would ensure there was a level playing-ground. Last week, KenCell managing director Phillipe Vandebrouck said there was need for new players to come in on equal terms as existing operators.Last week, the regulator said similar technical and quality requirements would be demanded of the third operator.

Final bidding takes place on August 22, and a licence should be issued by December.Already, five firms have been pre-qualified. Among them is MSI, reportedly eyeing for the 60 per cent stake in KenCell held by French conglomerate Vivendi Telecoms International. Asked about a possible conflict of interest in MSI’s action, Mr Kirui said it was so far not clear that MSI was angling for the equity. He, however, said the law would take care of the matter if it emerged that MSI was going for both.

In the meantime, he announced that the two licensed operators had more or less met their roll-out requirements. The plans are revised from time to time at the request of the service providers. The regulator said it was in constant discussion with Telkom Kenya to ensure it complied with its end of the bargain. Last year, the State firm - whose land-line monopoly ends next June - was fined for non-compliance.

Mr Kirui was answering questions from the media after signing a Sh11,718,000 (USD155,000) grant agreement with International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The money - some Sh16,632,000 ($220,000) - will support research into a universal access plan for the country. The IDRC, through the Acacia Initiative, will provide Sh11,718,000 ($155,000) while the rest will be paid by CCK.

"We believe the results of this collaboration will provide the commission with reliable data to enable us to develop appropriate policy that would herald requisite interventions in the provision of communication services to all parts of the country," said Mr Kirui.

CCK said the licensing of regional telecoms operators was still on course. Some players have expressed willingness to pay for the permits - the deadline is this month.

The Nation