Mobile telephone subscribers in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will have to wait for at least a month to benefit from low cross-border calling charges.
The rollout under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Framework has been deferred pending the Heads of State Summit scheduled for October 7 to 9 in Uganda.
The launch was initially scheduled for September 1, but was pushed forward to allow mobile telephone operators in the three countries to negotiate new roaming rates.
“The presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will sign the documents that will pave the way for the implementation of the one network area by the three countries in the Heads of State Summit next month,” said Kenya’s Information Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i in a special gazette notice.
Once implemented, the calling rates are expected to decline to $0.1 per minute for retail and $0.07 per minute for wholesale.
The retail rate is the cost incurred in distributing calls within a country. The wholesale rate is the agreed interconnection rate between networks. Wholesale charges represent the fees the visited network charges the home network for letting its customers roam on its network.
One area network is a regional framework comprising countries that have agreed to waive or manage roaming charges and other surcharges for telecommunications traffic.
The ministers in charge of information in the three countries agreed to publish policy guidelines on one network area ahead of the commencement of the trials.
In Kenya, for example, Dr Matiang’i has already published a gazette notice that amends the Information and Communications Technology Sector Policy Guidelines to include the implementation of regional roaming tariffs within the one network area.
The changes in the policy guidelines give the mobile telephone operators the greenlight to negotiate new roaming charges.
The scheme is important for East Africa’s citizens, as roaming charges, which have been beyond the reach of many, will drastically go down, stimulating growth in the telecommunications sector.
The sector has in the recent past become one of the important pillars of economic development in the region, contributing a significant share of the bloc’s economic wealth.
According to Dr Matiang’i, under the agreement, the regional framework, which refers to telecommunications traffic originating and terminating within the one network area, shall not apply surcharges to international incoming traffic, impose additional charges to subscribers roaming within the one network area and impose charges to subscribers for receiving calls while roaming within the one network area.
Subscribers in Kenya have long complained about the expensive cross-border calling charges in East Africa, which are far more expensive than those for Europe or Asia.
“It is not fair for subscribers in Kenya to pay Ksh30 ($0.34) per minute to call Uganda and Ksh23 ($0.27) per minute to call Rwanda. We need to reduce the charges for the benefit of East African residents,” said Dr Matiang’i.
The Cabinet secretary said Tanzania and Burundi have agreed to come on board, but requested for more time until December 31, to put in place the necessary policy framework and regulations ahead of the full launch next year.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda hammered the agreement under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Integration Framework, which also includes South Sudan, a non-EAC member.
“We also agreed to help South Sudan establish a regulatory institution, formulate the necessary framework and laws to help them join the one network area at the same time with Tanzania and Burundi,” said Dr Matiang’i.
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) director-general Francis Wangusi said a study will be conducted in East Africa to help member countries come up with standard rates to be charged once the one network area is fully operational in the region.
“By July 2015 we shall have confirmed the calling charges, which we expect will be below Ksh10 ($0.12),” said Mr Wangusi.
The CA boss said there was also a need for investment in telecommunication infrastructure for the effective communication once the one area network is fully rolled out.