Kenmark Broadcasting Network (KBN) has written to President Edgar Lungu seeking his intervention regarding the denial by TopStar to grant them with a bandwidth capacity signal on TopStar bouquet for them to be a full commercial broadcasting station.

In its letter, which was also copied to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, the Minister of Transport and Communication, IBA Director General, and to the ZICTA Director General, KBN claimed that TopStar refused to issue them with a bandwidth capacity despite having been provided with enough capacity by ZICTA, which has instead been filled with Asian content.

The network also stated that the denial by TopStar will have an adverse impact on them as the station was ready and willing to add diversity to the Zambian television programming.

“KBN was successfully granted a Content Service Provider Licence – Commercial Free-to-Air by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in January, 2017. Following this, KBN applied at that time to the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation for a TV signal of which we were informed this was not possible at the time due to digital migration that was in progress and, as such, the bandwidth capacity had been exhausted. We were later advised that KBN would be allocated a bandwidth capacity on the TopStar bouquet. All indications were that this would be made available early this year, 2018. On the strength of this, we sourced and secured office space to commence preparations for broadcasting and have been incurring operational costs since October, 2017. Some of the milestones achieved in preparation for commencing broadcasting include; contracting a consultant to get the studio and control rooms ready, we procured a loan to fund the purchase of high-quality studio and broadcasting equipment, we started filming and producing a number of shows in readiness for broadcasting, we employed a multi-skilled team of 16 young talented Zambians comprising journalists, camera operators, video editors, marketing staff, transmission controllers, graphics designers and other support staff among others,” the letter read in part.

KBN stated that despite IBA instructing TopStar to give them a space on digital platform, the directive had been disregarded with impunity.

“To demonstrate the channel’s readiness, we started conducting live Facebook broadcasts for news at 19:00hrs and a breakfast show every morning from Monday to Friday. We have since suspended these trial broadcasts due to cash flow constraints arising from the network having not commenced commercial broadcasting. All the operating expenses, including salaries, were funded from resources of the local promoters and directors of the company. We wish to bring to your attention that earlier in the year, inspectors from IBA, TopStar and ZICTA came and conducted inspection and confirmed our technical readiness to commence broadcasting,” KBN’s letter added.

KBN further complained in the letter that TopStar, which was only mandated to be a signal distributor, was also playing the role of a content provider.

“Your Excellency, the challenge we have continued to face is that TopStar, the designated national signal carrier, claims that they do not have sufficient bandwidth to accommodate our channel on their bouquet. However, we are aware and were reliably informed that ZICTA provided enough capacity to TopStar, but they have instead filled the available bandwidth with their own Asian content. Our understanding, your Excellency, is that TopStar’s mandate is to be a national signal distributor and not to assume the role of a content provider as well. They cannot be both. As things stand, they are playing both roles of being a signal carrier as well as a content provider. This clearly has an adverse impact on competition and is depriving young Zambian investors, such as ourselves, who are ready and willing to add diversity to the Zambian television programming from entering the market and competing favourably. Your Excellency, we know you are an ardent supporter and advocate of young Zambian entrepreneurs who are contributing positively to the socio-economic sector of the country,” it stated.

The station charged that TopStar was frustrating Zambian investors in the digital migration and broadcasting project.

“We have had sight of letters from IBA instructing TopStar to ensure that our channel, which fulfilled technical requirements be given space on the digital platform. However, the directive hitherto has been disregarded with impunity by TopStar citing capacity and bandwidth limitations. Your Excellency, we are well aware that it is the policy of your government that Digital Migration must benefit Zambians. We are, therefore, extremely disappointed and shocked with the conduct of the appointed signal carrier who have vehemently refused to take our channel on board,” KBN stated.

The letter signed by KBN board members further stated that efforts to resolve the matter through various channels did not yield any positive results, hence the decision to write to President Lungu.

“We must hasten to mention that IBA has given licensees the necessary support, but the challenge has always been the allocation of bandwidth, which is a matter of contention between TopStar and ZICTA. Our frantic efforts to have this matter resolved through normal channels have yielded no fruitful results and we are left with no choice, but to seek your intervention in this matter. Your Excellency, this state of affairs on a matter of public interest is not acceptable to us and we are sure will not be to you as well as it is an affront to your government’s efforts to empower Zambians who genuinely want to play an active role in national development. It is our sincere hope that our appeal meets your consideration for urgent intervention as the status quo is negatively impacting our ability to meet current financial obligations in the absence of full commercial broadcast programming,” read KBN’s letter.