PUBLICATION OF THE LICENSING AND SHARED SPECTRUM FRAMEWORK FOR COMMUNITY NETWORKS

By Angela Mukora,Rose Njeru,John Syekei Thursday, May 27, 2021
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The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has published the Draft Licensing and Shared Spectrum Framework for Community Networks 2021 (the Framework) for public comment. The framework is intended to govern community-based public networks in Kenya primarily offering Wi-Fi services. One of the objectives is to ensure the affordability of community network services and increase the efficiency of network services – which primarily include internet services. The CA has invited comments from the public on the Framework, which should be submitted by 1 June 2021.

The Framework deviates from the traditional model of commercial operator licensing and the exclusive spectrum assignments by introducing a spectrum-sharing model. This deviation will enable the cost-efficient operation of community-based network operators that do not have the muscle of large-scale operators. In the Framework, the CA recognises the value of small-scale network operators availing their services in far-flung areas where internet connectivity may be low. The Framework will provide an operating model where the CA can license small-scale operators taking into account their peculiar circumstances.

It proposes to introduce a new licensing category for small-scale network operators, ensuring that the administrative and financial requirements are proportionate to their size and scale. Additionally, the Framework seeks to expand the range of frequencies available for license-exempt use, especially in the 5-6 GHz bands. It further seeks to review the spectrum fee structure by reducing the fees for underserved areas.

In our view, the Framework is a step in the right direction. By establishing a separate model for regulation of small-scale operators, the CA will effectively promote internet connectivity in underserved areas. This Framework will give certainty in the operations of community-based operators and allow the CA to categorise regions with low connectivity.

Of note is that the Framework states that the Unified Licensing Framework is currently under review to create new licensing categories. The extent of the changes that will result from the review is unclear at the moment, but they will likely impact existing license categories and previously unlicensed activities.