Airtel wins Sh2bn license fee case against telecom regulator  

Telecom operator Airtel Kenya has won a long running court battle against the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) over a directive to pay Sh2 billion in frequency spectrum fees.

Airtel has been fighting the license renewal fee since 2015, after the regulator demanded the money from the operator after its license had expired.

Airtel however challenged the demand arguing it had been exempted from the renewal fee after acquiring the network infrastructure of Esser Telecom’s yu Mobile which exited the market in 2014.

Justice George Odunga gave the orders while delivering a judgment where Airtel filed a suit seeking to block the regulator’s fresh demand of the money before the operator’s license can be renewed.

“It is therefore my view that the respondent’s decision to demand the applicant pays Sh2billion within 14 days from the date of demand for the zeal of meeting annual tax targets, is not such an overriding interest from the reasons set out in the judgment to justify its failure”, Justice Odunga ruled.

He also gave orders compelling the Communications Authority to give Airtel a license without any further delay.

The decision to demand the fees from Airtel at one split the CA board with some directors opposed to the move.

Airtel has held that its newly-acquired licenses are due to expire in 2025 but shortly after it paid the Sh718 million in December 2014, the CA  shifted goalposts and demanded an additional Sh2.1 billion as a condition for renewing the license.

The ruling comes as a relief for the telecom operator which has been under financial strain.

Last week Airtel denied claims it was exiting the Kenya, Uganda and Tanzanian markets but said it was open to merger or acquisition talks with partners that could help strengthen its operations.

The CA had in October indicated that a waiver on the spectrum fee could only be issued by ICT cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru.

Airtel is the country’s second largest mobile operator.