The Statement From CCK Director-General: The Shut Down Of Illegal Broadcast Transmitters

This morning, the Commission has shut down six broadcast transmitters in four different sites or locations of the country that were being operated using unauthorized frequencies and without the required licences in blatant breach of the law. Section 35 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, outlaws the setting up and operation of communications apparatus without authorization from CCK.

The six transmitter stations that have now been put off-air were located in Narok, Nakuru, Mukuyuni (in Ukambani) and Mabrui (Malindi), and were being operated by the Royal Media Services. The stations are part of the 17 unauthorized transmitter stations that the Commission issued a 30-day notice about on 3rd December 2012. The notice directed the offending broadcaster (i.e. Royal Media Group) to cease operating the unauthorized frequencies or face the full force of the law.  In spite of the notice, Royal Media Services has continued to transmit broadcast signals from the 17 transmitter stations in total disregard of the law.  The Commission shall in the next few days shut down the remaining 11 illegal stations located in various parts of the country in order to ensure that players in the broadcasting and other market segments of the wider ICT sector operate within the law.

I wish to note here that the 17 transmitters in question are being operated using self-assigned or ‘grabbed’ frequencies. Indeed, some of the transmitters are located in non-designated broadcasting sites thus causing harmful interferences to duly licensed services including broadcasters, aviation, and other critical services. Transmissions from these illegal stations are also causing interferences in neighbouring countries, eliciting complaints from regulators in the region. In Kenya, some licensed broadcasters have lodged complaints with the Commission regarding interferences to their stations.  In some instances, the interferences are so intense that the services of other broadcasters using duly authorized frequencies have been rendered completely inoperable.

More disturbing, the safety of our airspace has in recent times come under threat as these illegal transmitter stations have on a number of occasions caused interferences to radio communication between pilots and the control tower. In this regard, the Commission has received numerous complaints from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority as well as from our national carrier, Kenya Airways, about threats to the safety of our airspace due to interferences emanating from these illegal transmitters. The representatives of these two organizations are here with us today and will corroborate what I have said shortly. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), which is represented here, has raised concerns in respect to the transmitters having been erected without first meeting the requirement for environmental impact assessment.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Commission is the only state organ charged by law with the responsibility of managing the country’s frequency spectrum resources. Management of the frequency spectrum is critical in ensuring orderly exploitation of this scarce and limited resource. All spectrum users, therefore, are required to operate under a licence issued by CCK and which must be kept in force through adherence to the operational parameters stipulated in the licence. I wish to hasten to add here that frequency spectrum is a national resource belonging to the people of Kenya, which must be managed centrally to ensure optimal and orderly use as well as to avoid interferences among various spectrum users.

In practice, frequency licences come with licence conditions which licensees have to adhere to for orderly use of the frequency resource. Failure to observe these conditions may result in serious operational difficulties of interoperability with other licensed radio spectrum users. In addition, it may adversely affect the co-ordination of utilization of radio communication services with neighbouring countries and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Some of the standard terms and conditions relate to, among others, the allowable transmitted power, location of transmitters and use of appropriate filters.

In light of the foregoing, self-assignment or ‘grab up’ of frequencies for use in setting up unlicensed broadcasting stations has no place in our country as there is an institution set up to oversee the management of frequency spectrum. Today’s shut down of the illegal broadcast transmitters should therefore be seen in this context.

I would like to make it clear that the 17 illegal transmitter stations that we are now in the process of shutting down are not the only ones about which the Commission has a bone to pick with Royal Media Services.  Indeed, there other 22 FM and 2 TV frequencies that the said broadcaster assigned himself between 2008 and 2012 and which the Commission has been injuncted by the courts from taking any action pending the hearing of the appeal arising from our notice to the said broadcaster in May 2012.  We are confident that the judiciary shall soon adjudicate on the pending cases, and thus pave way for the shutdown of all illegal transmitters that are either being operated using self-allocated spectrum or that are located in non-designated broadcasting sites.

 Ladies and gentlemen, the Commission has attempted to engage Royal Media Services to cease self-appropriation of spectrum without success. In 2006, the Commission, after consultations with the relevant government organs, regularized a total of 67 FM and 10 TV frequencies that Royal Media Services had acquired in the same manner between 2002 and 2006 on the understanding that the broadcaster would henceforth cease using unauthorized frequencies and deploying transmitters in non-designated broadcasting sites. Contrary to this agreement, Royal Media Services has continued allocating itself frequencies and erecting masts in non-designated broadcasting sites in total disregard of the law and regulatory notices. From our side, we cannot sit by as the ICT sector law is being derogated with reckless abandon at the risk of compromising on the safe operation of aviation services, and jeopardizing investments in the ICT sector. We have a mandate to execute, and execute we shall without fear or favour.

The implications of unauthorized use of spectrum are quite adverse and include the following:

  • They are a threat to national security;

  • The continued establishment of unauthorized transmissions is increasing incidences of harmful interferences to other spectrum users including aviation, thus presenting a threat to safety of life. This may result in Kenya being boycotted/blacklisted by airlines leading to extensive losses in tourism and other economic activities including investment;

  • The continued use of unauthorized frequencies amounts to an act of impunity and flies in the face of the regulatory requirement to provide an equal platform for all players; and

  • Unauthorized use of frequencies denies the Commission the spectrum resources to address plurality and diversity and to cater for devolution requirements as envisaged in the constitution.

As I conclude, I wish to note, for purpose of clarity, that the Commission is not switching off any frequencies that have been assigned legally to Royal Media Services or to any other licensee nor those that are subject to court cases. We are only focusing on frequencies that Royal Media Services has assigned itself in total disregard of the law. I also wish to let you know that this matter has been a subject of debate in parliament in light of the grave implications of use of unauthorized spectrum to the safety and integrity of our airspace, and protection of investments in the ICT sector.