Regional ICT Regulators to meet Telecoms over roaming calling rates

UCC Executive Director, Eng Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo (L), Rwanda's Permanent Secretary of ICT and Innovation- Mr. Yves Iradukunda (C) and his Ugandan counterpart, Dr Aminah Zawedde (R). Photo/Courtesy

Kigali, (RW): 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 at during a two-day Heads of Communications Regulatory Authorities meeting 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 meeting agreed to engage operators on how to deal with emerging issues. 

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“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.

Dr Aminah Zawedde, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and Ambassader Richard Kabonero, the National Coordinator of Northern Corridor Integration Projects

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. 

On her part, Eng. Irene Kaggwa-Sewankambo, the Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), said Uganda has fully implemented the framework with nearly 90% rates reduced for regional calls.

“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.

Eng. Irene Kaggwa-Sewankambo, the Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) – Left, attending the meeting

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 the other 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 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 Kaggwa. “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,” 

Eng. Kaggwa said the meeting also resolved to review the framework owing to 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 the Northern Projects (NCIPs)

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

Amb. Kabonero explained that NCIPs seek to speed up the integration of regional economies but also drastically cut the cost of doing businesses 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 area network 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 includes 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. 

About the ONA Framework

The One Network Area (ONA) framework, approved by Heads of state in 2015, imposes a cap on roaming prices as well as the removal of surcharges on cross-border telecom traffic.

All the member countries have implemented the guidelines except for Tanzania and Burundi, with steps to bring the two countries on board not yet completed.

In December 2020, after internal consultations, Tanzania said it was ready to implement the EAC roaming framework. Burundi, on the other hand, indicated that internal consultations on the implementation of the framework were still underway.

The implementation of the roaming framework guidelines is expected to reduce costs, and boost telephone communications between EAC countries, therefore providing additional revenues to both the operators operating in the region and the member countries.

Officials at the ICT Regulator’s Meeting of Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIPs)

The Uganda delegation was led by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and National Guidance -Dr. Aminah Zawedde and includes; Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)-Eng. Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, the National Coordinator of the Northern Projects – Amb Richard Kabonero, and Amb. Margaret Kedisi -Charge D’Affaires and Deputy Head of Mission-Uganda High Commission, Kigali.

The Rwanda Delegation was led by the Permanent Secretary of ICT and Innovation- Mr. Yves Iradukunda who is accompanied by staff from the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), while, the South Sudan delegation was led by the Director for Planning and Business Development-Eng. Simon Philip Ali.

Kenya was represented Ms. Eva Mwasho, the Senior Interconnection Tariff Officer of the Communications Authority of Kenya.

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