Mobile phone service operators Airtel and Telkom Kenya are facing a stern reprimand from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) for failing to meet basic quality of service (QoS) standards.

The regulator's latest report, covering the year ended June 2023, paints a grim picture of dropped calls, sluggish internet, and patchy coverage, particularly in rural areas.

"The Authority has, therefore, proceeded to levy a penalty for underperformance in offering quality of service in the mobile network subsector by Telkom Kenya and Airtel Networks,," the CA declared in a statement, sending a clear message to the struggling operators.

While market leader Safaricom continues to bask in the sunshine, scoring a commendable 90 per cent on the set quality metrics, Airtel and Telkom Kenya languish at 79 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

This translates to a worrying industry average of 72.4 per cent, a significant drop compared to previous years.

The report identifies two key culprits: outdated base transceiver stations (BTS) and their sparse deployment, particularly in rural areas.

This translates to patchy coverage, the bane of many users venturing beyond the city limits.

Unsuccessful Call Ratio and Data Internet KPIs, indicators of call completion and internet accessibility, paint a particularly grim picture for Airtel and Telkom Kenya.

"Airtel Kenya Networks and Telkom Kenya failed to meet not only their coverage targets but also a number of the most critical QoS KPIs, particularly the ‘Unsuccessful Call Ratio’ and ‘Data Internet’ KPIs, which is an indicator for coverage and Internet availability/accessibility respectively,” reads the report.

Telkom Kenya, in particular, witnessed a dramatic plunge from 73 per cent in 2021/2022 to a mere 54.8 per cent in the latest report.

This nosedive is linked to a network disruption last June, when American Tower Corporation, a major infrastructure provider, switched off their towers due to unpaid lease fees.

The CA's warning isn't just a slap on the wrist.

Along with the financial penalty, the regulator has issued a notice of non-compliance demanding significant improvement in the next assessment.

Failure to do so will lead to escalated sanction levels, leaving the operators facing potentially harsher consequences.

The situation highlights the stark digital divide in Kenya, where rural communities often bear the brunt of inadequate infrastructure and patchy service.

For Airtel and Telkom Kenya, bridging this gap is no longer a choice, but a necessity.

They must invest in modernizing their networks, expanding their rural footprint, and ensuring reliable connectivity for all Kenyans, regardless of their location.

The CA's tough stance sends a clear message: Kenya's mobile phone users deserve better. It's time for Airtel and Telkom Kenya to step up and deliver, or risk losing ground in a competitive market where quality service is no longer a luxury, but a basic expectation.