The release of the report on the state of competition in the telecoms industry that was commissioned by the Communications Authority has kicked off a storm — and rightfully so. After all, it is a critical industry for Kenya’s socio-economic fabric.
In the ensuing debate, people are weighing in with varied opinions. Whereas many of these elicited opinions are being voiced by individuals and organisations whose names may ring a bell, do we have any reason to believe?
Or, since they do not come from the regulator, who is the presumptive authority and referee of the telecommunications sector, can we disregard as hearsay and mere opinions?
Debate is healthy. It is what communication scholars call a public sphere. Access to which is unlimited in progressive societies in order to encourage engagement.
However, the prevailing free-for-all unmoderated debate on the state of the telco industry risks derailing what should be a meaningful debate about an industry that has made unprecedented contribution towards enhancing financial inclusion in Kenya and putting the country on the global map.
There is also the risk that by virtue of power and influence of holders of some of these opinions, they could be amplified, making them appear dominant view. Shouting the same thing over and over, even if it is not gospel truth, could sway public opinion towards a certain direction.
Unfortunately, this may ultimately make any policy direction to the contrary, not only unpopular, but also unsupported by a vast majority.
Take the issue of price controls and their merits or demerits, which continues to illicit reactions. This is a critical conversation that cannot be left to run amok because it touches on public interest, which is at the core of service delivery, whether by public or private sector.
The more it is repeated that instituting price controls may drive up costs in the industry, without substantiation and evidence, the more it risks sowing seeds of discord should the regulator come up a policy.
Pre-empting certain remedies that the regulator may be mulling is not good for the industry.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon the regulator to take charge of this conversation and to guide it.
The telecommunication industry is crying for leadership of thought and the Communications Authority, and the Competition Authority of Kenya, on whose doorstep matters competition stop, should step up.
David Keitany Via Email