Communications Authority of Kenya Rules on White Spaces may derail Plans to increase Internet Access


The digital migration process in Kenya meant that Television broadcasters will no longer use analogue frequencies to transmit free to air channels that are usually transmitted terrestrially. This led to the freeing up of numerous frequencies as digital television only uses a single frequency. The free spaces not only presented telcos with an opportunity to increase their coverage but also allowed for internet service providers to increase their internet outlay in far-flung places.

One of the most ambitious plans to increase internet access in places that did not have it in Kenya was a brainchild of Microsoft, through the use of TV white spaces. TV white spaces offer immense advantages in that signals can travel longer distances and in less developed areas. It also allows for the underutilised spectrum to be put to good use as a low-cost alternative for broadband.  In Kenya,  Microsoft launched the Mawingu project, which focused on giving internet access to the under-served and they only pay a small fee for administration of power used to run the equipment.

This ambitious plan may now be in jeopardy following a decision by the Communications Authority of Kenya to issue signal distributors with the  power to issue free television spectrum to internet service providers. A company such as Microsoft which may be looking to use White Spaces will now have to go through the signal distributors who include Pang and Signet.  According to the CA, this move would prevent the interference of television programming with equipment being used in the White Space. Such a move may be detrimental to the goal of increasing internet access as users of White Spaces wmay be required to pay fees to signal distributors. White Spaces have been seen as an important tool of expaniding internet connectivity in the African continent, where governments have faced challenges in providing broadband internet access to the continent’s population.