East African Community ministers order telcos to agree on terms to reduce tarrifs

Kenya: Mobile phone operators across the East African region must agree on terms to reduce international and roaming tariffs to lower the cost of doing business in the region, three ICT ministers from Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have directed.

This agreement should precede Wednesday’s launch of the One Network Area initiative spearheaded by the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State.

The entire of the EAC region, including South Sudan, should have adopted the one network area by 2015. The plan envisages the reduction of international and roaming tariffs to  deepen social integration in the region.

The development could send Kenya’s largest mobile operator Safaricom and operators in Rwanda back to the drawing board. On Thursday, Safaricom said it had suspended the proposed new international and roaming tariffs between Kenya and Rwanda. This follows a directive by the Rwanda government on October 1, announcing the introduction of new levies on international calling and roaming tariffs between the two countries.

Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore argued that the development makes it impossible for operators in Kenya and Rwanda to go ahead with the planned downward revision of tariffs. “We will, therefore, revert to the previous tariffs even as we push on with efforts to ensure we have affordable calling rates for the region,” said Collymore.

But in a meeting in Kigali on Friday to review the progress of the One Network Area initiative’s  implementation plan,  Rwanda’s ICT minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Kenya’s Fred Matiang’i and their Ugandan counterpart John Nasasira said  there would be no backing down on the commitment to ensure affordable communication services in the region which are designed to spur trade and increase social-economic growth. The ministers said the three countries have finalised all the technical, regulatory and policy issues.

The South Sudanese Telecommunications and Postal Services minister, Rebecca Joshua Okwachi, who also attended the meeting, said the country would soon follow suit. She said South Sudan had in the past two weeks established a regulator to work with network operators towards joining the One Network Area by January 1, 2015.

“There is no doubt this will improve our trade ties within the region and the One Network Area is a quick win towards the broader Smart Africa objectives,” said Nsengimana of Rwanda.

On his part, Matiang’i said the collaborative spirit and the shared sense of purpose would be of great benefit to EAC citizens.

The last tariff review between Kenya and Rwanda was effected in October 2013 when governments within the region introduced taxes on international calls, forcing operators to revise their calling and other rates upwards.

Kenya is the only East Africa nation that does not levy taxes on cross-border calls. The country has been pushing for a common termination tariff.