Subscribers to telecom networks within Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan are set to enjoy cross-border calls at the same rates under the “One-Network-Area.”
The four countries have announced plans to adopt a regional telecommunications framework with effect from January 1, 2015.
The communications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), in a statement issued yesterday and signed by ICT Minister John Nasasira, said operationalising the framework is part of the resolutions made by the heads of state at the 5th Summit for the Northern Corridor Integration Projects in May.
“The regional framework applies to telephone calls originating and terminating within the region,” the statement reads in part. The statement was also signed by the Rwandan ICT minister, Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Permanent Secretary-ICT ministry of South Sudan, Mr Stephen Lugga, and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the ICT ministry, Dr Fred Matiang’i.
The framework mandates members to exempt regional calls from surcharges applied by member states on international incoming calls and scrap any additional charges to subscribers on account of roaming within the region.
Once the system is implemented, subscribers will not be charged for roaming within the region for receiving calls while travelling within the member states. Subscribers will instead be charged as local subscribers in the visited country network.
“The subscriber will therefore only incur prevailing calling rates of the visited network similar to what local subscribers pay,” the statement read, urging operators within the region to re-negotiate their bilateral agreements to ensure full implementation of the framework by September 1, 2014 for Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda and by December 31, 2014 for S. Sudan.
Tanzania, also a member of the East African Community (EAC), is excluded from the framework which is in tandem with the ongoing efforts to promote integration among the four countries under the Northern Corridor infrastructure plan.
UCC acting executive director Patrick Mwesigwa told the Daily Monitor that, they had prior to announcing the development, extensively engaged the telecom operators in the four countries and they had all agreed in principle.
“Because they have agreements amongst themselves, we have given them time until September to re-negotiate a specific call rate,” he said.
In 2006, Airtel, then Celtel scrapped roaming call surcharges for its subscribers in East Africa to beat competitors. In 2011, Airtel Tanzania announced that it had slashed to half its tariff for cross-border calls between Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. This, was meant to offer customers from Tanzania seamless and affordable communications with neighbouring countries, enabling them to increase their business activities across the East Africa regional community.
How a social protection system works
There are a number of telecom players in the region namely; MTN (operating in Uganda and Rwanda), Airtel/Warid (operating in Uganda, Kenn\ya, Rwanda and Tanzania), Orange (AfriCell), K2 (operating in Uganda), Uganda Telecom (operating in Uganda) and Sure Telecom (operating in Uganda) and Smart Telecom (Uganda and Tanzania).
All countries operate different call rates which are relatively high, subject to taxes and fees in making calls within the region as compared to the rest of the world, say America or Asia. Officials from MTN and Airtel, the biggest players asked for time to consult before making any comment.