Safaricom questioned over network outage

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A few days ago, M-pesa services experienced degradation that lasted several hours, from 1830 hours through 2330 hours Saturday.  This outage impaired the over 20 million active M-pesa users and more than 150,000 M-Pesa agents across the country whose businesses stalled for hours.

The blackout is estimated to have cost the economy billions of shillings. CA statistics show that about Sh1.5 trillion moved through the M-Pesa platform in the three months to June, translating to an average Sh16.3 billion per day or about Sh679.3 million every hour.

Out of the mandate to protect Kenyans from such botches, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT Joe Mucheru gave a statement on 9th December 2018 that read, “The ministry has noted with concern the outage experienced by Mpesa services and has instructed Communications Authority to liaise with CBK and investigate the cause of this outage and forward a report to government including remedial measures that Safaricom will take to ensure the outage doesn’t recur in the future.”

During the outage that lasted several hours, Safaricom customers had problems paying for electricity bills, shopping, sending money to relatives, and even placing bets with gambling firms. It took almost an hour before the company issued the first statement after people took to social media asking whether there was a problem with M-pesa.

“The grip that M-peasa has on the Kenyan economy is dangerous and the regular needs to create structures that will protect both the citizens and the economy from a potential M-pesa crumble,” said a mobile money expert who sought anonymity. Since the outage, there has been movement both at the Ministry of ICT and the Communication Authority trying to get guarantees from Safaricom that such activities will never recur.

With government closing in and making sure that such technical hitches are handled within acceptable service restoration periods, there is fear that mobile money operators will be exposed to stringent operation guidelines that may affect their operations and innovation. It is, however, the responsible of the regulator to ensure effective regulation that does not undermine innovations and at the same time tame monopolistic or abusive dominant position that could negatively impact customers.

In this regard, the regulators have employed the short term measures that are aimed at mitigating the various risks. The short term measures include the development of cooperation frameworks with clear action plans to guide on implementation. Moral suasion is also being employed to persuade the players to interoperability.

Mucheru also assured Kenyans that his ministry will ensure that mobile service providers give uninterrupted services and urged mobile money users to have redundancy to guarantee continued services. Safaricom will face sanctions given the regulator does not accept interruptions beyond one hour.

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