Frequent cross-border forays chasing elusive prospects led to a closer look at the roaming service. And like many roving East African Community citizens, I can vouch for the One Area Network (ONA). Mobile services are seamless and convenient, albeit more so within the four ONA implementing countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan. Tanzania and Burundi were expected to have already enrolled on the network by now but have just been asked to implement the EAC Roaming Framework by August this year. The directive was issued at a sectoral council meeting in Bujumbura last month. When the framework to establish the One Area Network was approved by EAC Heads of State in 2015, a cap was imposed on roaming prices to make cross-border voice calls cheaper. Among other costs, the price was capped at US 10 cents (RwF 109) per minute, inclusive of taxes, for traffic originating and terminating within EAC. A study by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) the following year in 2016 noted the global significance of the One Area Network. It touted the ONA as an early test of regional regulation of roaming and probably helped inform a similar network in the European Union. The study observed that the EAC network not only brought the four member States implementing it closer together, but contributed strongly to the drive for integrated regional economic development. Cross-border voice traffic rose three times in Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, and nearly five times in Rwanda. Roaming voice calls averaged US 8.7 cents per minute, well below the retail price cap of US 10 cents per minute. The uniform charges however don’t appear to have been destined to last. Cracks appeared in 2018 when media reports lamented the collapse of the harmonised prices, which reverted to pre-2015 charges. And what was the reason for the collapse? The answer is discordant tax policies in the region. That, however, is five years ago and tax policies have since been made a bit smoother. But the price harmony does not seem to have returned in regional mobile telephony. No better indication for this than that the EAC secretariat has just tendered for a sector expert to develop a framework that will lead to eliminating charges for voice calls among partner states. To get a feel of the current charges, I checked with Safaricom, the region’s largest mobile network operator (MNO). Its WhatsApp chatbot directed me to its website. To call MTN Rwanda from a Safaricom line in Kenya, a voice call costs Ksh.25 (Rwf 208) per minute. A request to MTN Rwanda’s manned WhatsApp service informed me that a voice call to the Kenya MNO costs Rwf 90/minute. This is the same cost to call mobile networks in Uganda and Tanzania. A call from Kenya to Burundi is the priciest at Ksh.110 (Rwf 917) per minute, according to the Safaricom website. To the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is Ksh.90 (Rwf 751)/minute. The disparity in the charges explains the EAC secretariat’s tender. According to the advert, “The assignment consists of developing a harmonised regional framework for roaming and traffic exchange in the EAC to support the implementation of the common market and subsequently develop a roadmap for the implementation of the frameworks for data and voice calls and SMS within the EAC region.” What should be our wish list while the consultants will be crafting a framework to lower the cost of mobile services in the region? Perhaps we could look to the European Union for suggestions. After all, they might have borrowed a thing or two from the EAC One Area Network before launching their own. EU citizens have since 2017 been enjoying free roaming to call, text and use mobile data abroad in the EU without additional charges. But a 2021 review of rules that asked EU citizens their opinion showed that it was not perfect. One of the concerns raised by the citizens was lower mobile internet speed and standards than they usually had at home. There appear to have been no major issues with calls and texting. One hopes the EAC consultants will seek the views of East Africans to hear what they think should be done. That’s Number One on the wish list. We have a similar issue as the EU with internet data, which is too expensive. But the EU has since put in place a ‘fair use’ data limit so operators can continue providing roaming services without increasing domestic. Data costs are the same as in the home country when roaming. Manageable roaming internet data costs should be Number Two on the EAC wish list. Number Three on the list, though there are more, is to more sustainably harmonise voice call charges.