CAK: all systems go for Universal Service Fund
By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya
Kenyans living in remote areas hardly reached by mobile and broadband services have a reason to smile. The long-awaited Universal Service Fund has finally become a reality and it aims to bridge the digital divide.
The Communication Authority of Kenya has already sent invoices to all licensees to pay 0.5 percent of their gross revenue to the fund. This payment started in 2013 and those who are yet to pay must do so or risk losing their licences.
In a stakeholders forum on Friday in Nairobi, CAK Director General, Francis Wangusi said the 0.5 per cent operators and other licensees pay is comparatively the lowest rate.
He said CAK will be remitting 25 per cent of its surplus revenue to the Universal Service Fund which is now ready to start implement its strategic plan.
So far the USF has accumulated over sh1.1 bn after CAK deposited Sh1bn as seed capital. The other operators have already paid close to sh100m and this amount is expected to increas in the coming months as more players pay up.
To start with, an access gap study shall be undertaken by a consultant to identify key projects to be implemented. This would take 14 months starting January 2015. It therefore means the implementation phase will kick off as early as February 2016.
"This is a key milestone for Kenya. There are many pockets across the country who are yet to be reached with key communication services. This fund is targeting rural areas which are not viewed as commercially viable," said Catherine Ngahu, Chairperson, Universal Service Advisory Council, CAK.
The CAK has already run a pilot project where it established e-resource centres in 46 centres across the country in conjunction with Kenya National Library Services.
Ministry of Information Principal Secretary, Joseph Tiampati said the USF will catapult the growth of ICT in the country. He urged all stakeholders to comply and cooperate for the fund to be sustainable and succeed.
Part of the strategy from the USF is to have the country achieve broadband speed of 5mbps by 2017 and 500mbps by 2030. To achieve this a whopping $2.5bn will be required thus the need to have the USF up and running.
To ensure sustainability and transparency, the USF shall be used exclusively for projects and administrative costs shall be borne by the CAK.
The fund was set up almost six years ago to help step up telecommunication infrastructure in rural and remote areas, which are normally considered financially unviable. However a squabble between CAK and ICT industry stakeholders on how to run the fund has been delaying its implementation.