Kenya Telecoms Regulator to Allow Internet Phone

By George Obulutsa

Kenya's telecoms regulator on Wednesday said it would this week permit telecoms operators to provide call services over the Internet, in order to lower high phone costs and expand telephone services to the rural areas.

Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) Director-General John Waweru said the regulator will place a notice in Kenya's official publication on Friday allowing licensed Internet service providers to transmit phone calls using the Internet -- or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

"As a further step toward liberalization, the commission has introduced the provision of Voice over Internet Protocol," Waweru told reporters at a news conference. "We expect that the introduction of VoIP is going to increase the teledensity, particularly in the rural areas."

The regulator said that the notice would give guidelines to licensed service providers on how to run the Internet calls.

The new service would also reduce calling costs locally and internationally, but that would depend on how the companies involved adopt it, Waweru said.

Industry players had accused Kenya's only fixed line provider, Telkom Kenya, of interfering with companies that attempted to provide Internet phone services long after its monopoly ended in June 2004.

"It's the reason why these guidelines have been issued -- to remove the conflict. With this guidelines they (Telkom Kenya and service providers) will now be allowed to negotiate," Waweru said.

Telecoms industry experts say they expect the cost of making calls to fall with the introduction of Internet calls.

While hailed for reducing calling costs, experts say that using the Internet to transmit phone calls is open to eavesdropping when done on unencrypted connections.

Kenya is one of the east African countries hoping to connect to a fibre optic cable running under the sea from Djibouti to South Africa. Waweru said that he hoped the completion of the cable connection in early 2007 would reduce Internet costs by diverting traffic from terrestrial satellites heavily used to transmit data out of Kenya.

"At that time, I think the cost of bandwidth will be affordable, and even Voice over Internet Protocol will be even better and the prices will be better," he said. )

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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