GOtv and StarTimes sued after Kenyans cut off from three local free-to-air channels

Nairobi residents shop for set-top boxes for the digital TV signal at a GOTv tent in the city centre last December. FILE
Nairobi residents shop for set-top boxes for the digital TV signal at a GOTv tent in the city centre last December. FILE

Business Daily Africa: The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) has sued two digital TV service providers seeking compensation for thousands of Kenyans cut off from three local free-to-air channels (FTAs).

In a case filed at the Milimani Courts Tuesday, Cofek claims that GOtv and StarTimes sold set-top boxes to Kenyans on the promise that they would air FTAs, but they had since been pulled off the air following a Court of Appeal ruling.

The Appeals court ruled that carrying FTA channel signals without the consent of the owners infringed on the intellectual properties of the three petitioners—namely NTV, Citizen and KTN—whose signals GoTv and StarTimes have stopped relaying.

But the consumer lobby argues that the pay-TV firms had failed to strike an agreement with the FTA channel providers to avert possible interruption and should therefore compensate the affected clients.

“(We pray that) the honourable court hereby issues an order compelling the 1st and 2nd respondents to compensate affected pre-paid subscribers by way of either refunds and/or credit equivalent to the period the Local Free-To-Air channels have not been relayed,” reads an order sought by Cofek.

Further, the lobby wants orders compelling the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), one of the respondents in the suit, to ensure that any compensation order issued by the court was complied with by the pay-TV firms.

The lobby accuses CAK of failing to ensure its regulation that requires the Pay-TV service providers to air at least five local FTA channels are complied with.

It argues that innocent consumers who purchased the set-top boxes and paid for the services cannot be allowed to suffer for errors committed by CAK, which is the licensing body, and the two service providers.

Stephen Mutoro, in an affidavit, said Cofek had received numerous complaints over the consumers’ inability to access the channels despite the promise the two digital distributors had made while selling the decoders.

The disruption of services came in the wake of the April 11 Court of Appeal decision that barred GOtv and StarTimes from broadcasting content from the three media houses without their consent.

The ruling was made in a suit filed by three media houses challenging the CAK decision that denied them digital licences, putting investments worth billions of shillings and many jobs at risk and at the same time denying Kenyans chance to access digital signal free of charge.

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