Archive

Archive for the ‘Regulation and Law’ Category

My Thoughts on the Proposed Retail Tariff Controls in Kenya

February 28, 2018 1 comment

telecoms-13The Communication Authority of Kenya is mulling on introducing retail tariff controls in the Kenyan mobile telephony sector. As you would imagine, this has elicited mixed reactions depending on who you ask. This move it is said is part of a raft of recommendations by the recently released report that studied the Kenyan telecommunication competitive landscape. The introduction, according to the regulator is aimed at correcting market failures that are as a result of one operator being dominant over the rest. The proposed retail price controls aim at limiting Safaricom’s freehand in determination of loyalty schemes and promotions, prohibition of on-net discounts, mobile money fees charged to unregistered and cross-platform money transfers. Tariff  control is a regulatory mechanism that can be employed to correct market failures in a market. The main motivation for price control is to protect consumers’ rights and interests in circumstances where market forces alone have been unable to do so.

The competitive landscape report implies that Safaricom’s price differentiation between on-net and off-net calls leads to tariff-mediated network effects. By this I mean that subscribers on a network find it cheaper to call others who are on the same network than calling people on a different network, the effect of this the emergence of the ‘club’ effect where subscribers decide which network to join based on which network the people they call mostly are on. If most of my family and friends subscribe to a network X, I am more likely to subscribe to network X because by being on network X and not on network Y, my overall calling costs will be lower due to cheaper on-net pricing. This it is argued is abuse of its dominance. But this is only true if the interconnection rates are high between Y and X meaning it will cost me more if I chose network Y where none of my relatives and friends subscribe to. As we speak, interconnection rates are already regulated by CA. This fact alone means that the regulator found and enforced an interconnection rate that was cost based and reflected the market realities. The Safaricom on-net call rates are above the regulator-set interconnection rates  and are similar to the rates its competition provides its customers to call into the Safaricom network, in short, Safaricom’s subscribers pay the same rate as competitors subscribers when both call another Safaricom subscriber. CA would be justified in imposing tariff controls if indeed Safaricom’s subscribers paid less to call their counterpart than when competition subscriber calls. The fact that the report found that each operator was dominant on its own network also means that the club effect can easily be replicated by competition through aggressive marketing and innovation.

Individually tailored tariffs

Another proposal by the regulator is the prohibition of individually tailored loyalty schemes and promotions. The CA 2010 Tariff regulations specify that all promotions or loyalty schemes must be approved by the regulator prior to commencement. Any promotion, offer or scheme currently in operation has the direct approval of the regulator, the details of each promotion or loyalty scheme structure were available to CA before approval and these include individually tailored schemes and promotions. When an operators behaviour due to regulation causes it to become successful, it cannot be punished for successes it encountered while operating within the laid down regulatory framework. If there is any discriminatory behaviour, then CA failed in detecting and stopping this even with the existence of regulations. When that happens, it is clear that regulation is not the solution to the perceived market failures and the only remedy is let competitive forces determine customer choice.

What would happen if call tariffs are regulated?

Most people assume tariff regulation leads to the lowering of retail rates. This would only be true if CA had a way of accurately measuring the costs involved to provide service to additional customers on their network. At the moment, due to the fact that Safaricom has invested more in network infrastructures geographical and population reach, it costs them less to bring in a new customer and provide service to them than its competitors. The proposal to use Long Run Incremental Costs (LRIC) method would mean that because of the massive economies of scale enjoyed by Safaricom owning a large network and technology convergence, the cost of offering an extra minute of termination on the network is virtually zero in the short-term and LRIC is applied to give a realistic cost over the long term. How long is ‘long term’ will determine the price point.
A regulated tariff price should imitate the prices that would have arisen in a market with effective competition, both because this provides incentives to produce the requested service at the lowest possible cost and because the operators requesting the service have the incentive to optimize their own investment decisions. In this way price controls can contribute to efficient utilization of social resources. The problem however is that LRIC works very well in legacy circuit switched networks where it was easy to link network utilization with the provision of a service (if a switched circuit is in use, it is providing a directly attributable service), in a converged environment, the relationship between network resource utilization and provision of services is not that straightforward and an LRIC model applied to it would fail to efficiently allocate costs. As networks evolve into Next Generation Networks (NGNs), LRIC approach to service cost allocation becomes inefficient and LRIC starts to resemble the Full Allocated Costing (FAC) model. The result? higher prices to the consumer.

Replicable retail tariffs

One of the recommendations by the study is that Safaricom’s Tariff must pass the ‘replicability test’.  In order for a product or service to be considered replicable, it must be commercially and technically capable of being replicated by Safaricom’s competitors. By this we mean that any new tariffs that Safaricom comes up with should take into consideration the capability or state of competitors infrastructure and services especially at the wholesale level. If for example, Safaricom comes up with a tariff that takes advantage of a new innovation they developed, then competition should have similar innovations on their networks or should be allowed by Safaricom to access this new innovation at wholesales prices to enable them offer similar tariffs. In order for competitors to be able to compete with Safaricom in retail markets, it is necessary for them to have access, either via their own networks or through access to Safaricom’s network, to the wholesale components that enable those retail prices to be offered. This as you can imagine will slow down the pace of innovation by Safaricom or change the main focus of innovation from the customer to competition, anytime Safaricom wants to innovate, they will think of ways through which competition will not benefit much from it as opposed to spending their time and knowledge on how the innovation will first benefit the customer.

Tower sharing

The report found that Safaricom is dominant in the tower market owning about 65% of telecommunication towers in Kenya and recommends that it shares it towers with competition. To do this effectively, Safaricom has to let a 3rd party manage the towers on its behalf. Safaricom owns its towers while competition has a mix of owned and outsourced/leased towers. With rapid advancement in technology, there is a saying in the industry that it is always cheaper to build a network tomorrow. Any new entrant or existing operator rolling out new retail services and infrastructure such as towers will do it cheaper today than those who did it in the past. See how easy it was for Finserve Africa (Equitel) to get market reach by the flick of a switch riding on an MVNO license? Older operators didn’t get to enjoy these benefits and had to put in sweat and blood to get where they are.
In the Safaricom 2017 sustainability report, the operator spent close to 10 million litres of fuel and about KES 48,000 per month per tower location on energy costs. The report also shows that fuel and power costs are coming down and that Safaricom has also embraced green energy initiatives to power the active components at the tower stations, it is becoming cheaper by the day to setup and manage tower locations but the increase in the number of towers makes the management of the same a challenge.  Outsourcing of tower management is used by some operators to shift a large element of their fixed costs to the variable costs column of their financial books, in doing so the operators financial health improves. Tower outsourcing has little to do with improved efficiency in actual operations and management of these towers but more to do with improving the books. Due to this, the global trend in the telecom sector is the outsourcing of tower management to independent 3rd parties, something Safaricom should consider for its own benefit and not due to regulatory requirement. Safaricom should then decide to lease its towers to competition on a purely commercial basis.

Conclusion

Although well meaning, the CA needs to explore non-tariff based remedies to the perceived dominance of Safaricom. Tariff control is a very intrusive approach to handling abuse of dominance whether real or perceived. As markets evolve to become competitive, ex ante regulation should reduce as the regulator forebears regulation in favour of competitive forces. The challenge however is that customer inertia can mask the existence of competition in the market leading to the regulator applying regulatory tools to correct this perceived market failure. Market forces should be let to dictate the market tariffs.
The tariff control ocean floor is littered with shipwrecks of tariff control attempts by various countries that  tried to correct market failures by  employing it. One of these countries is Mexico who in 2012 introduced tariff controls by baring America Movil from charging interconnection fees to its competitors. Movil controls 70% of Mexico mobile market. As of 2015, mobile call charges had dropped by about 17% but investment in the sector dropped 30% during the same period, for a developing country like Kenya, a drop in ICT investments will have far reaching effects across multiple sectors of the economy. Whereas the intended outcome of tariff control is to  protect the consumer from a dominant operators actions, the question that remains is whether tariff control is the only viable market correction tool available.

 

Advertisements

Building Owners Impeding Telecom Services Roll-out Due To Lack Of Laws

January 21, 2018 3 comments

strctured-cabling-system-1There is this new building in Nairobi that is now inviting new tenants to occupy it after being recently completed and opened with much fanfare. As usual, new tenants were expected to fit suitable furniture and fittings into their new premises. But there was one problem: The building; in all its glory, lacked suitable telecommunication raiser ducts and conduits and occupants could neither pull cable to create Local Area Networks nor could they easily connect any floor to the basement where a local ISP had placed its fiber optic switch. The building owners also asked the tenants to bear any costs related to the modification of the building to enable the setting up of telecommunication infrastructure.

I searched the Kenya building code of 2009 and the National Construction Authority Regulations of 2014 to see if any of them compel building designers to incorporate telecommunication ducts as part of a buildings services in a similar manner it specifies requirements for  plumbing, electrical cabling, ventilation and heating/cooling. Sadly both do not make it mandatory for designers to incorporate into their designs paths, risers, ducts, trays or any other cable containment mechanisms that will enable the easy pulling, organizing and routing of telecommunication cables to any part of the building.

For buildings that have incorporated telecommunication cabling space and paths in their design and construction, the MDF or telecommunication room is usually small, poorly ventilated, poorly supplied with power and mostly located on the basement of most buildings which can sometimes be a long distance to the top floor depending on the building height. Building owners are also charging telecommunication companies hosting charges to host their switches and other equipment in the MDF room. These charges vary from a low of KES 3,000 to a high of KES 25,000 a month with or without electric supply. In the same breath, utility companies providing water and electricity are not charged rent for their equipment and fixtures such as electricity meters by the building owners to avail their products and services to the same tenants. In fact, its the building owners who pay the utility companies for them to bring in services to them.

With nearly every office needing internet connectivity for normal operations just like they need electricity, water and drainage, why do building owners create barriers for telecommunication companies by not making their buildings  cable ready and if they do,  go ahead and levy monthly rent for the cabinet hosting the equipment? Some building owners have also gone ahead and signed exclusivity agreements with one provider to host their equipment and avail internet connectivity in the whole building, locking out competitors. I know of operators who have been denied building entry to avail services to potential customers because competition locked them out with an exclusivity agreement between them and the building owner.

Outside buildings, telecom operators also have to apply and pay for wayleaves and permits from county governments and the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to trench, lay cable, and do back-filling. It takes an average of three weeks to obtain a permit from any of these bodies and at a significant cost too. Permits to cross major highways by way of micro-tunneling can take several months to obtain.

The above challenges exist because there is no clear legal framework in which the telecom operators can work in to avail their services which can now be considered as utility services similar to electricity and water supply. There is need to do the following so as to make it easier for the operators and consumers of their services:

  • Amend the Kenyan building regulations to ensure that all commercial an multi-dwelling residential units such as apartments have suitable and standardized telecommunication cable pathways and containment fixtures. MDF room location should also take into consideration the transmission distance limitations of some technologies such as electrical/copper based cable maximum transmit distances.
  • Make it illegal for building owners to sign exclusivity agreements with a single or a select number of providers and baring the rest from building entry. Every operator should be given equal and reasonable access to their potential customers in any building. The proposed Kenya infrastructure sharing act can incorporate a section that outlaws exclusivity agreements as they also effectively bar infrastructure sharing.
  • The Kenya wayleave act cap 292 should be amended and modernized to reflect the current realities. The act assumes that the government is the sole provider of utility services and does also not incorporate the provision of utilities by private enterprises.
  • All road designs where necessary and possible, should incorporate buried ducts and manholes along the entire stretch of the road and suitable micro-tunnel crossings to carry any operators fiber-optic and coaxial cables at a small monthly fee payable to the road owner (KeNHA or county government). This will avoid instances where each operator has to trench and bury their own cable. This is sometimes done on the same side and section of the road and often leads to accidental cutting of a competitors cable as an operator trenches to lay their own cable. In the last 3 months, I’ve heard of about 4 instances of this happening in Kenya. Other than this, frequent trenching of roads inconveniences other road users and pedestrians. This is especially true in cities and towns.
  • County governments should be compelled by law to not charge telecom operators for permits to lay cable, this can be done by amending the Kenya Information and Communication act section 85 and 86 to explicitly state that no fees should be levied by local authorities and also specify timelines within which permits should be granted. The overall economic effect of letting the operators lay cable without many barriers such as fees and delays in approvals far outweigh the financial gain from permit fees by the county governments.
  • Physical planning departments in both national and county governments should incorporate telecommunication infrastructure real estate current and future needs when designing cities and towns.
  • The Kenya Information and Communication act should specify harsher punishment to telecom infrastructure vandalism acts such as fiber optic cable cutting or destruction of a mobile/wireless base station. In the same breath, it should also compel operators to conduct awareness campaigns to citizens living near telecommunication infrastructure on the dangers of tampering with the infrastructure.

Recent research shows that access to telecommunication services such as the Internet and telephony has a great impact on the socioeconomic well being of citizens especially in developing countries such as Kenya. It is therefore important that operators get all the support from the government in their quest to roll out services to the citizens because in dong so, they help the government in meeting its socioeconomic objectives.

 

Harmonic Convergence? FM Interference to 700 MHz LTE Service

March 10, 2014 Leave a comment
Categories: Regulation and Law Tags: , ,