Kenya to issue third digital license to local broadcasters

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

The long battle between local broadcasters Nation Media Group, Royal Media services, and The Standard Group, and the government could soon be over.

All indications are that the government is keen to grant the trio a third digital broadcasting license to unlock the stalemate that has bedeviled the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Currently, the distribution of the digital signal is done by state-owned broadcaster KBC, through Signet, and Chinese firm Pan African Network Group.

The row surrounding the awarding of the signal distribution license has been going on for more than two years.

This follows government's step to amend the law governing communications in a gazette notice last week meaning the local broadcasters could soon be licensed to distribute their own digital television signals.

The change comes after Supreme Court compelled the government to open dialogue with media houses and agree on possible award of signal distribution licenses.

The amendment by Information and Communication Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is a step to effect the Supreme Court's order. 

“The licensing of signal distribution providers shall take into consideration the need to optimise the utilisation of existing broadcasting infrastructure. The Communications Authority of Kenya shall consider the merits of issuance of other broadcast signal distribution and self-provisioning licenses,” reads the gazette notice in part.

The Supreme Court judges, in the ruling delivered on September 29, gave the communications regulator 90 days to consider the merits of issuing a license to Nation Media Group, Standard Group, Royal Media Services or any other local investor.

In its ruling, the court also overturned an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal that had compelled the regulator to issue digital signal broadcasting licenses to three leading media houses.

The migration was conventionally agreed upon at the Radio Communication Conference held in Geneva under the sponsorship of the International Telecommunications Union in May 2006 and the global cut date for the shift agreed to be June 2015.

Kenya had intended to start shifting by 2012 but a series of court cases has hindered the process. Migrating to digital broadcasting will free spectrum that can be used by mobile phone companies to roll out superior networks like Long Term Evolution or 4G.

It will also benefit viewers by giving them a wider variety of television channels to choose from. 

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