Telco sues KPA for $14.5m over fibre optic cutsBy OKUTTAH MARK | Monday, April 30 2012 at 11:32
An undersea fibre optic operator, the East African Marine Cable System (TEAMs), has sued the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and a shipping firm for KSh1.2 billion (about $14.5 million) over cable cuts that interrupted voice and data businesses for a month.
The incident occurred on February 25 after a ship owned by Athena sailed on a restricted water path and destroyed the undersea cable, interrupting telecoms services in the one month that it was being repaired.
This adversely affected service providers like Safaricom, Kenya Data Networks and Access Kenya since they could not supply Internet to their clients and incurred extra costs in seeking alternative carriers like the satellite and rival fibre optic firm Seacom.
The ports authority and shipping line could face another suit and similar claims following a fresh cut on the cable last Thursday that is expected to take a month to repair.
“We will sue it (KPA) again as soon as we establish the cause of the cut, we have already sued it for $15 million in the earlier case of which they have deposited $2.5 million with the court,” Information and Communications PS Bitange Ndemo told Kenya's Business Daily.
TEAMs has tapped corporate law firm Daly and Figgis to handle the brief and the $14.5 million charge is for lost business, repair of the cables and the extra cost incurred by the operators.
The Coast is a hub to four marine cables — Seacom, TEAMs, EASSY and LION — which connect the entire East African region to the other parts of the world.
The cable cuts negatively impact local and regional users of the crucial Internet service.
The government and local telecom operators that include Safaricom, Jamii Telecom, Wananchi, Essar, Kenya Data Networks, Access Kenya, Telkom Orange and Bandwidth & Cloud Services own the TEAMs cable under a Public Private Partnership model.
Regional operators including Bharti, MTN Group and Vodacom, who own the EASSY cable would be watching the legal battle with a keen interest since it also faced a cut on February 25.
The cable cuts happened within the restricted area where the ports authority is expected to ensure that no ship or shipping activities interfere with the four undersea infrastructure. “KPA is the custodian of cable landing points where the cut has occurred and which is a restricted area.
We want to establish what kind of activities were going on at that particular time and if at all KPA is using the geo maps to direct the ships,” said Dr Ndemo on the latest cut.
The East African region got connected to the global undersea fibre optic cable in 2009, which helped wean Kenya off its reliance on satellite services.
Satellite Internet services are more expensive to lease than fibre optic and offer slower voice and data services. But the frequent cable cuts have thrown a lifeline to satellite operators as Internet service providers tap them to cushion their operations from interruptions.
Ken Munyi, a general manager at iWay Africa, a satellite operator, said that operators are increasingly appreciating the importance of back-up solutions, which has seen increased demand for satellite services.
“Since the EASSY cable was cut on February 25, we have witnessed increased enquiries and interest,” said Mr Munyi.
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