Roaming charges shoot up in EAC despite network deal
Published Sat, May 5th 2018 at 00:00, Updated May 4th 2018 at 20:08 GMT +3
Kenyans are paying up to 20 times more to call within the continent as roaming charges shoot up.
New data on the cost of voice calls from Kenya to several African countries indicates a sharp spike in the last three years.
Burundi, a member of the East African Community, charges the highest at an average of Sh56.25 per minute.
This is more than three times the Sh13.25 per minute that subscribers were charged in 2015 when the region came together to implement the one area network (ONA).
Started by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, ONA was aimed at bringing down costs for calls originating and terminating between countries across the region, with South Sudan joining later.
“In 2017, calling charge in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan was Sh7.50 per minute compared to Sh56.25 and Sh23.75 in Burundi and Tanzania respectively,” said the latest report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
“This is on account of Burundi and Tanzania not operating within the ONA framework.”
The high calling rates indicate that the plan to extend the network to other countries has failed to reap desired benefits.
Further, the costs are much higher than for calls to countries such as the US, China and India where consumers paid Sh3.75 per minute.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), initiatives such as the one area network have had direct cost benefits to consumers and should be expanded to others in the region.
“Cross-border voice traffic has grown rapidly since ONA implementation, tripling in both Kenya and Uganda with a nearly five-fold increase in Rwanda and a thirty-fold increase in South Sudan,” said the ITU in a report.
Service providers also registered benefits when average retail and wholesale costs were adjusted to match consumer patterns.
“A wholesale price cap of $7 cents (Sh7) per minute without surcharges lets all mobile network operators in the EAC offer roaming services profitably,” said the report.
With the regional average minimum retail price before ONA set at $8.7 cents per minute and the lowest freely negotiated wholesale price for roaming set at $7.63 cents (Sh8) per minute, capping costs at $10 cents (Sh10) per minute left room for further voluntary price reductions from competition.
The new figures come even as the EAC countries seek to implement a regional policy to guide service providers and regulators in developing tariffs for digital connectivity between different service providers across the borders.
“Traditionally, interconnection in telecommunications has been set at the telephone services level,” say the proposals contained in the East African Community Interconnections Regulations, 2017.
“This worked well for the telephony environment, but began to experience problems with the advent of new services and next generation networks that have different needs for interconnection.”