Travellers within the region have welcomed last week’s directive by the East African Community heads of state to scrap mobile telecom roaming charges across all networks.
The 5th Northern Corridor Integration Projects Summit in Nairobi last week, directed the scrapping of roaming charges on voice data and messages to ease communication within the region.
The partner states agreed to implement a one-area network by December 31, 2014 and incorporate fiber optic access on all Northern Corridor Integration Projects, read a statement released at the closure of the meeting.
With one area network, for example, a person in Kigali will be able to communicate to their friend or relative in Nairobi, or Kampala cheaply without roaming costs. It will be the same as making domestic calls.
However, Tanzania will not be part of the project since it’s not a member.
Burundi was initially not part of the Northern Corridor initiatives but later requested to join.
“My mother lives in Kampala; sometimes I spend almost a month without calling her because of high charges,” Fiona Mutoni, a student in Kigali, said.
Harriet Murungi, a Kigali resident who regularly travels to Kampala, said sometimes she is unable to answer calls on her MTN line while in Uganda because of high charges.
“Whenever I go to Kampala I am completely disconnected from communication with my friends and relatives unless a friend in Kigali sends me airtime,” she said.
“It’s a great achievement and shows how the partner states are committed to the integration process,” she added.
If the roaming charges are scrapped, some observers see it as yet another great achievement after the introduction of use of IDs as a travel document.
Clever Mugisha who deals in second hand clothes in Nyabugogo also said sometimes he cannot answer calls whenever he is in Nairobi or Kampala due to high rates. He said the new development would positively impact their operations.
Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister for Youth and ICT who attended last week’s meeting, said EAC leaders instructed telecommunication regulators to convene soon to finalise on the implementation of the decision.
He said within two months, all telecommunication companies in Rwanda and regulators as well as government officials will convene to look at the operationalisation of the decision.
Easing communication in the region is one of the key issues that have been considered at regional level as a way of cementing the integration agenda.
Telecom companies willing
Yasmin Amri Sued, the Tigo brand and communication manager, said they were ready to go by the decision, noting that the most important thing was to make communication affordable in the region.
“The roaming charges, if reduced, will benefit our customers. Our aim as Tigo is to ensure the easing of communication and making it more affordable,” he said.
Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the chief marketing officer at MTN Rwanda, said as long as the regulator, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, reduces their charges, the company will also implement the decision.
MTN charges Rwf123 per minute to call Uganda and Rwf128 to call Nairobi. When one travels to Uganda with MTN Rwanda line, they are charged Rwf202 to make calls to any network while calls back to Rwanda cost Rwf291 and SMS costs Rwf60.
Mobile companies charge their customers for receiving calls while on roaming. These rates could go down once roaming charges are abolished.