For the last three years, pay tv operators in Uganda have been playing hide and seek games as the regulator moved to streamline the annual licensing fees structure, a high ranking official said today.
The digital TV companies including Azam TV, DSTV, Gotv, Zuku, StarTimes and KWESE TV in a joint statement released on Monday evening accused the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) of astronomically increasing the annual licensing fee for each operator by a staggering 2,400 percent from Shs 22m to Shs 550m.
“The UCC is in the process of developing a new licensing framework, on which we were in the process of engaging the regulator to ensure that the framework is enabling and appropriate,” part of the joint statement read.
The Pay TV operators added that they were astonished to see the UCC’s notice labeling them non-compliant.
“We are therefore surprised that the UCC, in the midst of our engagements, and after having licensed each of the Ugandan Pay TV operators under the prior licensing framework, allege that all of the Uganda Pay TV providers are non-complaint.”
The statement has since kicked up dust with subscribers saying they would not renew subscriptions once the rates are raised.
Mutabazi speaks out
But UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi told ChimpReports on Tuesday morning the tv operators have been “evasive” since they were told the old licensing model would be phased out.
“We have been engaging them since 2015. We proposed to adopt the model used by Tanzania and Rwanda where these TV operators are charged a certain percentage on their gross revenues. But they didn’t want to declare income,” said Mutabazi, adding, “They were evasive.”
Mutabazi wondered why the operators do not want to declare their income.
“You can’t negotiate for three years. We are going to implement a formula being practiced in other countries. If they are saying the fees are high, what is reasonable? How much do they make? Those with less income will be charged less. The percentage of the fees will be based on annual gross revenues,” he added.
The operators have explicitly stated they cannot manage the increased fee unless its borne by consumers.
“Pay TV operators will have no choice but to pass on these increased fees to subscribers if we are to survive, which we are reluctant to do as it would make Pay TV services unaffordable, and place an additional burden on consumers,” the operators’ statement read.
Mutabazi said the regulator has already received complaints of pay TVs overcharging their customers and in some cases in foreign currency.
“Why are they charging Ugandans in dollars? What are they basing on to make these decisions? They are already overcharging their customers,” said Mutabazi.
The UCC boss, who appeared to be warning the operators against intimidating the public, said they “don’t describe their own fees,” emphasizing, “They must work together with the regulator.”
The Pay TV operators said they were “committed to constructive engagement with the UCC to develop an enabling new licensing framework in the interests of consumers, the broadcasting industry and the country as a whole.”
On his part, Mutabazi welcomed this idea, saying the matter must be discussed and resolved amicably.
“What we don’t want to see is the repeat of the GTV scenario whereby the operator came here and started prolonging negotiations with the regulator while making money before disappearing,” said Mutabazi.
“You can’t keep negotiating forever. We must have a formula based on best practices and in comparison with what our neighbours are charging these operators.”