Regional communications regulators to meet telecoms over roaming calling rates

KIGALI – Regional communications sector regulators have resolved to review the implementation of the much sought-after One Network Area (ONA) framework on roaming charges to help deal with issues emerging from its implementation.

The One Network Area promises cheaper calls across the bloc due to harmonized roaming calling rates. The benefits include easier and cheaper communication that will promote the ease of doing business in the region.

The development was reached during a two-day Heads of Communications Regulatory Authorities summit held in Kigali, Rwanda between September 14 and 15.

Dr. Aminah Zawedde, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and National Guidance in Uganda and the chair of the ICT Infrastructure Development Cluster under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP) said the summit agreed to engage operators on how to deal with emerging issues.

“We have agreed that we are going to go back to the operators and engage them in our countries, and then get to know what their experiences are about this [ONA] framework,” Dr. Zawedde said at the end of the summit held at Four Points Hotel.

Dr. Zawedde, however, noted the operators’ feedback will not affect the framework objectives whose original position stands that the receiver of calls during the roaming process should not be charged.

“As we look at whatever challenges that could have cooked up for the last nine years, we still want to maintain that the receiver will not be charged for receiving roaming calls within the region, but how we ensure that this happens comfortably amongst the operators in the region that is the gist and focus of this discussion,” she explained.

All member countries including Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda are implementing the framework, with some reporting challenges, according to Dr. Zawedde.

“There are some countries that have submitted challenges that the operators have put forward to them in terms of implementation and we are saying, if one country is saying that they have challenges, maybe other countries are also experiencing challenges that we need to look into as a region, instead of tackling one challenge at a time because when you look at one country at a time then we shall be probably solving silo challenges. We want to solve them holistically because all these operators are working in the same space, and therefore, should be given a leveled ground on how to operate competitively within the region,” Dr. Zawedde further explained.

Eng. Irene Kagwa-Sewankambo, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director said Uganda has fully implemented the framework.

“In terms of what has really been achieved, the roaming calling rates have almost 90% reduced; the traffic and trade in the region have also increased because, now people are more comfortable to roam. Once you have communication, life becomes easier,” said Eng. Kaggwa, who possesses a vast experience in the ICT sector, regulation, and implementation in various aspects including internet development and licensing.

She added: “We have students studying across the countries, but even traders importantly, traders are able to move around the region. So you don’t have to worry that I have to go to another country then I have to first get a new SIM card for that country, yet I’m only going to spend one or two days or a week, you can now use your phone all across the region”.

“If you go to a country and you realise that by switching on your phone you are going to be charged highly, you are likely to switch it off,” said Ms. Kagwa. “But if you are part of ONA, that means that you are less worried about receiving and making calls and therefore an additional revenue that will come from the fact that you will accept to use communication in that period.”

“Rather than have roaming charges restrict ease of communication as people move across the region, the ONA sought to reduce the barriers in that respect,” said Eng. Kaggwa noting that the meeting also resolved to review the framework owing to the difference in tax regimes and other challenges including grey traffic which degrade the quality of calls and erodes revenue revenues to regional economies.

ONA requires mobile network operators to renegotiate and reduce wholesale tariffs and a waiver of excise taxes and surcharges on incoming voice traffic while establishing wholesale and retail price caps on outbound ONA traffic.

Amb. Richard Kabonero, the National Coordinator of Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIPs)said that the harmonization of calling rates will support and facilitate the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

He said that the ONA framework is just one of the many projects under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects that seeks to enhance competition, and improved access to cost-effective and secure ICT services.

Amb. Kabonero explained that NCIPs seek to speed up the integration of regional economies but also drastically cut the cost of doing business by positioning the region as a leading investment destination.

“We’ve made progress on the roaming charges plus the cost of communication, but we are not satisfied. We think there should be integration of payment systems in other areas,” Amb. Kabonero said during an interview.

He said that EAC countries made a joint commitment in 2014 to create an ONA for the four economies of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

Achieving a one-network area will facilitate trade within the block through cheap calling rates. ONA caps cross-border traffic calling rates at $0.5 per minute and eliminates mobile roaming charges.

Key among other projects under the NCIPs include infrastructure, power generation and transmission, and ICT.

“Next month we have a very important meeting on extending the Standard Gauge Railway from Naivasha to Malaba and Malaba to Kampala and all the way to the boarder of Rwanda,” he explained.

He said that whereas all member states aren’t on the same level in the implementation of the framework, a lot has been achieved under the framework.

The European Union is facilitating the revival of Northern Corridor Integration Projects to help the region cut the cost of doing business.

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