KAMPALA — Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the communications sector watchdog has shut down a number of communications establishments including outdoor megaphone community radios (bizindaalo), Radio Stations, and repeater stations or network boosters that have been operating illegally countrywide.
The raid, launched in collaboration with law enforcement agencies including Police and local authorities was part of the Commission’s regulatory efforts to address the declining quality of service (QoS) delivery occasioned by the illegal use of phone signal boosters devices by some businesses in city buildings and the illegal self-assignment of radio frequencies.
UCC enforcers said they had earlier advised all illegal operators to seek permission from the regulator or shut them down voluntarily.
Illegal telecom repeaters/ boosters
Telecom subscribers were said to have repeatedly complained to the Commission about increasing difficulties in making seamless calls within downtown Kampala, a major trading hub within the Central Business District.
The unauthorized repeater stations amplify the radio signal noise environment, thus causing signal interference to mobile networks of the duly licensed network operators, which affects the quality of service of the affected network.
Before the enforcement operations, the Commission had written to illegal operators to desist from the practice.
“The Commission has received complaints from the national telecommunications operators about interference caused by the unauthorized use of repeater stations (also known as boosters) aimed at boosting the mobile network signals”, the Commission said in a public notice last year.
Citing section 21 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, the UCC said the use of network repeaters contravenes the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and regulations issued thereunder.
“The public is hereby warned against the unauthorized sale, purchase, installation, and use or operation of repeater stations/devices except where a licensed mobile network operator provides and configures such for use,” the regulator had earlier warned before raiding the operators.
Several repeater stations were confiscated from city buildings including Shawuliyako Building rooms (No. A-018 – Najjuka Dawin Shop) and A-024, Capital Centre Building, Kalungi Plaza, and Gagawala among others.
Explaining the reason for this, Denis Okalany, who headed the countrywide enforcement said their usage, without being licensed by the telecom regulator, has the capacity to degrade network quality for the general public.
He added that the Commission will not condone any action by any individual or a business entity that amounts to a flagrant violation of this law in their quest to boost services in their commercial places to the detriment of the general public.
A cell phone signal booster also known as an amplifier or a cell phone reception booster is generally a repeater system that involves the amplifier adding gain or power to the reception in various directions.
The main aim of the cellular phone signal booster is to take the existing cell phone signal around your car, office, workstation, or home and amplify it, after which the amplified signal is rebroadcast to the area with no reception or weak signal.
The use of a phone signal booster without authorization by the telecoms regulator or knowledge of a licensed service provider is an unlawful practice that has an adverse effect on the general quality of service delivery to the generality of people in the affected area.
Several offenders are since facing prosecution in courts of law.
Illegal Radio Stations and Bizindaalo
The UCC disconnected a number of Radio Stations and Illegal Bizindaalo for operating outside the UCC regulatory framework.
More than 30 Radio Stations and Bizindaalo were disconnected and their transmitters were confiscated by the UCC enforcement team during a crackdown that started in Kampala and Wakiso before being extended to Mityana, Mbarara, Ntungamo, Rukiga, Bushenyi, and Kyotera Districts.
The UCC disconnected Mityana FM — 98.5 in Mityana District, Rukiga FM 88.0 in Muhanga TC —Rukiga District, and Crane FM 87.6 in Ishaka, Bushenyi District.
Other radio stations disconnected include KY 97.1 FM, in Mpawu, Kyotera Town Council, Crest FM Kyotera, 102.2, 92.0, 90.8 FM, and Mpuungu FM 99.6 also in Kyotera.
Voice of Bwebajja, an outdoor community radio station in Bwebajja was also dismantled by the UCC enforcement team.
The commission accused the stations of operating without valid licenses from the communications sector regulator.
Several pieces of equipment including satellite antennas, mixers, and transmitters belonging to the stations were confiscated in the process.
At all points, the head of the operation, Mr. Okalany briefed illegal operators on the correct process and of abstaining a license from the UCC.
Operation. Section 26(1) of the UCC Act 2013 states that a person shall not install or operate a television station, radio station, or any related broadcasting apparatus without a license issued by the Commission”.
Recently, the High Court Civil Division in Kampala granted the UCC permission to destroy all communication equipment confiscated from known and unknown illegal operators across the country.
The application whose ruling was made by the High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana in April 2023 brought by UCC under a Notice of Motion below Section 33 of the Judicature Act, Section 98 of the Civil Procedure Act, and Section 5(1), 6(2), 27, 78, and 82 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and Order 52 r 1 and 2 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
UCC brought this application seeking an order authorizing the destruction of all communication equipment confiscated from known and unknown illegal operators across Uganda between January 2017 and 30th December 2022 by UCC officers in accordance with section 6 of the Uganda Communications Act.
UCC in its application alluded that over the years between 2017 to 2022, its officers have confiscated several illegally possessed, installed, connected, or operated apparatus and the owners/persons from whom apparatuses have been confiscated have neither appealed such confiscation to the relevant authorities, tribunal or court nor formally claimed the same in any way.
In his ruling, Justice Ssekaana said that the court as a temple of justice should be able to fill the gap in order to avoid any absurdities in the application of the law.
“The duty of the court is to apply the law and discover the intention of the lawmaker. Since the Communications Act provided for confiscation of the said illegally possessed, installed, connected or operated apparatus, it would automatically be implied or read into the act that such confiscated equipment was to be destroyed to deter breaking of the law,” he said.
“This court accordingly grants the applicant an order to destroy communications equipment (Listed in Annexure‘A’ of the affidavit in support of this application) that were confiscated from known and unknown illegal operators across Uganda between January 2017 and 30th December 2022 by the applicant’s officers in accordance with section 6 of the Uganda Communications Act and other relevant laws. The said destruction should be carried out by Luwero Industries Limited. It is so ordered,” he ruled.
According to the UCC act, an illegal operator is an entity or a person who has no Licenses and has no authorizations from UCC for the provision of Communications services in Uganda.
“A person shall not install or operate a television station, radio station, or any related broadcasting apparatus without a license issued by the Commission..,” reads part of the Uganda Communications Act, Section 26 (1).