East Africa to have uniform tariffs for Mobile calls starting October

East AfricaThe East African Community (EAC) has moved a step closer to making the One Network Area initiative a reality, a move that would see subscribers paying a uniform tariff for mobile calls within the region. Reports CIO East Africa

As a first step, three EAC member states – Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda – have embarked on a pilot that will see mobile calls from and to within three countries charged at a uniform rate of Kshs 8.7 (US $ 0.10) from October 8 as part of the One Network Area. The two other EAC members – Tanzania and Burundi – will adopt the new call charges from December 31 this year.

This will be a slight reduction in the current rates charged for calls within the region, which are of course higher than those charged for calls to either Europe or US. At the moment, it costs Kenyans Kshs 14 (US $ 0.16) to call Burundi; Kshs 10.68 (US $ 0.12) to call Tanzania and Kshs 8 (US $ 0.09) to call Uganda. Rwanda is the most expensive to call from Kenya at Kshs 26.7 per minute while a call to Kenya from Rwanda costs Kshs 89 (US $ 1) according to the current exchange rates.

Speaking in his office yesterday, Kenya’s ICT Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i that during the recent Northern Corridor Integrated Infrastructure Summit, regional ministers agreed that the ‘one network area’ would commence on September 1.

“All the four ministers who were there worked on a Gazette Notice. At least the three of us – Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya – were required by law to publish guidelines for our industry regulators on how the ‘One Network Area’ will operate,” said Matiang’i while displaying the Gazette Notice dated September 1.

The Gazette Notice states that inter-operator tariffs for calling within the One Network area will initially be US $ 0.10 per minute for retail and US $ 0.07 for wholesale.

According to Dr Matiang’i, the regional ministers agreed that the One Network Area should first operate on trial basis – for a month between September 1 to October 8 – to give the MNOs time to negotiate the rates amongst themselves and work on a framework of implementing it. After this trial period, the initiative is to take full effect on October 8 when the Heads of State will officially launch it in Kampala Uganda during the Infrastruture Summit set to run from October 7 – 9.

“We’re having these discussions at two levels – first is at the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Framework which involves South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya – while the second is at the East Africa Community (EAC) level which then brings in Tanzania and Burundi,” stated Matiang’i.
Under EAC’s East Africa Communications Organisation (EACO), added the CS, all member states are being persuaded to come and operate within the One Network area, which means that a call originating from anywhere in East Africa is treated and charged as a local call and if there’s an inter-connection rate, it’s also capped to make it less expensive.

“The EACO meeting took place about two weeks in Arusha. Kenya is chairing EACO, while our President is chair of EAC, so I’m by default the chair of the EAC ICT ministers Caucus. Under EACO, Tanzania and Burundi agreed to join the ‘One Network area’ by December 31 this year, a deadline which also works well with South Sudan as it also requested for a similar extension as they don’t have an industry regulator,” he added.

He added that under the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Framework, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have managed to help South Sudan build a regulatory framework.

The three countries have donated their local experts to go and help establish South Sudan’s regulatory framework in such areas as SIM registration, management of interconnectivity, calling rates and so on before the country can join the ‘One Network Area’ by December 31.

Should the EAC’s ‘One Network Area’ initiative get off the ground successfully without any hiccups, the ITU has also expressed interest and already asked the EAC team to lead discussions at the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU) level on how to eventually make Africa a ‘One Network Area.’

“On October 2 – 3, we’ll be in Kigali for the Smart Africa Summit and Kenya will lead discussions on the need to reduce the cost of calls in the region and continent as a whole,” stated Matiang’i.

Francis Wangusi, director general, Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), said that ‘One Network Area’ begins with the regulatory framework, where players agree amongst countries then give the guidelines to the MNOs to negotiate with partners from across the borders and agree on the rates.

Wangusi said that the response from both the regulators as well as MNOs in the region has been positive, even though there are some minor challenges.

“So far, every player in the eco-system is happy about it. There are only a few challenges that some countries are facing in terms of our partnership. Kenya has not loaded any other taxes beyond the normal taxes on the calling rates within the country but the other countries have levied surcharges which are beyond the normal rates,” said Wangusi.

To address this, he said, it’s been agreed that at least the jurisdictions that have effected those taxes remove them and remain with the normal taxes, after which the ‘One Network Area’ can begin at the cost of just slightly less than Kshs 10.

“But we won’t stop there. We are also set to carry another study by 2015 to ensure that all the other challenges with respect to connectivity will be resolved to establish the correct rates which may even be less than kshs 10. But we can’t effect those rates now that’s why we’ve decided to start at the rate of Kshs 10 for the initial three countries – Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda,” he stated, adding that Burundi’s other issue is that all its regional calls have to be routed via Belgium before they land in either Kenya, Uganda or Rwanda.

Tanzania – on the other hand – has to bring its operators on board and also reconcile its budgetary projections as it also has very high surcharges on international incoming calls. To circumvent the government policy, Tanzania has to look for ways of doing it without having to wait till the next financial year before it can join the ‘One Network Area’. The same applies to Uganda where the government and regulator will also have to absorb the charges.