Interview: Safaricom Clarifies Position on Bulk SMS Blockage

Weeks ago, Safaricom decided to block every incoming SMS terminating with a modified foreign alphanumeric code to its subscribers. Many companies acquiring bulk SMS from international providers were targeted.

And now after covering that story, Safaricom’s blocking of bulk SMS, we paid a visit to Stephen Chege, Safaricom’s Head of Regulatory & Public Policy. We chatted briefly about their company’s decision and what it meant for bulk SMS providers.

Why is Safaricom Blocking Bulk SMS?
What we have implemented recently is a policy whereby we shall only accept SMS on to our network from companies or partners we are interconnected with or with whom we have SMS inter-working agreements. The fact is, people sending SMS from your network with whom you have no such agreement do not compensate you for the cost of delivering that SMS that passes through cost-incurring channels.

What benefit does Safaricom derive from this regulation?
Equally, what those bulk SMS providers have been doing is basically spamming. We will be able to save on costs and protect our resource from wearing out. By blocking non-licenced bulk providers, we will also be looking out for our customers in the sense that if measures are not taken, this problem will could be a big issue especially now that we are moving towards the elections. We think this is a prudent thing that we have done and is ultimately for the benefit of the customer.

How are you handling the situation after bulk SMS providers were disgruntled at the lack of a Public Announcement? Are they going to get an apology?
There is no apology here, its an issue of engaging and clarifying. The information has been with them all along. But, we think most of them were not happy with it. We are however managing the situation. Currently, most providers are on board with us and have acquired Bulk SMS directly from us or our PRS providers. We’ve been very open and engaging with them to a point of offering alternatives. All we are saying is that they acquire their services from suppliers who have an agreement with us.

Is this a standard industry agreement? Are other mobile operators in Kenya doing the same?
Currently, we are not aware and are collaborating with any of them on this. We have a clear understanding of the regulations and how we want to do business.

Being one of the hundreds of businesses affected, Muraya Kamau of Deveint.com finds Safaricom’s decision to be ill timed.
“The should have given us a red light about 2 months ago. They requested that I acquire bulk SMS from them or their suppliers. However, their costs are still high. Now I have to re-asses what my clients need.” Muraya told HumanIPO.
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