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IXP helped foster government industry cooperation in Kenya

Zambia AIS Photo 2013 Cropped smallWhen a group of Kenyan Internet service providers gathered in Nairobi to establish an Internet exchange point (IXP) late in 2000, little did they know that their actions would lay the foundation to one of the world’s most commended reciprocal relationships between government and the ICT industry.

Initially set up as a cost saving exercise to avoid using expensive international links primarily controlled by the incumbent monopoly telecom operator at the time, Telekom Kenya, KIXP quickly caused headlines for all the wrong reasons recalls Michuki Mwangi, KIXP’s chief technology officer and one of the original technicians involved in the setup of the IXP all those years ago.

“A week after we had set it up, the incumbent [Telkom Kenya] requested that the regulator [Communications Commission of Kenya, now known as Communications Authority] to shut it down, as we were operating illegally,” says Michuki. “This was even though we had an informal agreement with CCK.”

According to the law, only the incumbent was allowed to interconnect networks, which they interpreted as running an IXP. Michuki says that at the time, the incumbent wielded sufficient influence and the regulator was forced to disable KIXP to the bemusement of everyone.

“It was not amusing to watch it unfold on the local news, they literally walked into KIXP, disconnected the equipment and walked out with the switch. It was all very dramatic.”

Such actions were initially condemned by the providers and ICT industry as being retrogressive and sympathetic to Telkom's continued stranglehold on the industry. However these thoughts passed as KIXP providers began to hold meaningful talks with the CCK, who were still fully supportive of their intentions under a legal framework.

“It took a year of discussions between the service providers and the regulator. In the end, there was an agreement reached to restart the IXP in early 2002, and laws put in place so that no one could put claim to the fact that it was illegal. This required a need for a license to be issued to the IXP.”

This was the first recorded instance of a government issuing a license to an IXP, according to Michuki, and this set the precedence for other countries to follow.

Now KIXP has 32 peering members, including the local cctld, the government’s own network, Kenya’s research and education network and multiple ISPs and is attracting new members like betting companies, local payment gateways and banks.

From gloomy days to continuing collaboration

Although this was a fantastic outcome for the KIXP providers, Michuki feels that the value of the exercise was far greater than being able to operate an IXP.

“From all the engagement service providers and the service provider association had during discussions with the government regulator, both parties started to form a mutual understanding and conversations which originally were very confrontational began to be more dialogue based.”

Having formed this amicable relationship, shortly thereafter, the government involved industry in discussions on the re-delegation of ‘.ke’.

The service provider association and the regulator were the founding members of the .ke registry contributing to its operationalization. Furthermore, there were constructive engagements between the private sector and government towards the end of Telkom Kenya’s monopoly on terrestrial and international gateway license in 2006.

The collaboration lead to the government partnering with local ISPs to build and deploy a submarine cable between Kenya and the Middle East, following its frustration with the delays in the implementation of the EASSy Cable.

“If you look at the whole growth and development on governance policy and ICT in Kenya over the past 15 years, you can almost go back to that gloomy day where it looked like the IXP was shut down but it was the start where collaboration between government and private sector was born.”

Note: The organization that current runs the KIXP is called TESPOK. Prior to this it was the Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya which is now known as the Technology Service Providers Association of Kenya.

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