EAC to review framework on roaming call charges

Saturday September 23 2023

A lady makes a call on her mobile phone. PHOTO | NMG


Communications sector regulators from the East African Community have resolved to review the implementation of the much sought-after One Network Area (ONA) framework to fast-track its implementation and bring down the cost of calling across the region.

During a two-day meeting of heads of regional Communications Regulatory Authorities held in Kigali, the regulators resolved to engage telecom service providers on how to deal with issues standing in the way of implementing the project.

High mobile roaming charges and surcharges on incoming international traffic have been blamed for creating barriers for cross-border communications within the region.

The EAC partner states made a joint commitment in 2014 to create an ONA for the then five economies of the bloc, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, with the benefits also extended to South Sudan when it later joined. Tanzania only joined in 2021.

Read: Tanzania joins One Network Area for lower cross-border call tariffs

Integration agenda


The ONA is based on a key set of regulatory interventions which include eliminating charges for receiving voice calls while roaming, a waiver of excise taxes and surcharges on incoming ONA voice traffic while establishing wholesale and retail price caps on outbound traffic, and requiring mobile network operators to re-negotiate with their roaming partners to reduce wholesale tariffs.

Dr Aminah Zawedde, Permanent Secretary of Uganda’s Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and the chair of the ICT Infrastructure Development Cluster under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP), said the Kigali meeting agreed to look at whatever challenges that could have cooked up for the past nine years.

“We still want to maintain that receiving roaming calls within the region should not be charged, but how we ensure that this happens amongst the operators is the focus,” Dr Zawedde said.

Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are implementing the framework, with some reporting unique challenges which Zawedde said could only be solved holistically across the region.

Some of these challenges are the disparate tax regimes across the region, integration of payment systems and grey traffic, which degrades the quality of calls and erodes revenue to economies.

The initial deadline by the EAC Heads of State Summit for the implementation of the framework was 2021.

Read: One Network Area: Roaming charges are back

According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the country has over the years seen the roaming calling rates reduced by 90 percent, which in turn has seen an increase in traffic and trade from around the region.

“We have students studying across the region… traders too, who are now able to move around the region without having to worry about buying a new Sim card,” said Irene Kaggwa-Sewankambo, UCC Executive Director.

Richard Kabonero, the National Coordinator of Northern Corridor Integration Projects, said that the harmonisation of calling rates will give the region an upper hand in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area by significantly cutting down the cost of doing business and positioning the region as a leading investment destination.

“ONA caps cross-border traffic calling rates at $0.5 per minute and eliminates mobile roaming charges,” he said, adding that whereas all member states are not at the same level in the implementation of the framework, a lot has been achieved.