Africa edges closer to abolishing roaming charges

The continent has one of the highest roaming charges in the world.

It could soon become cheaper to call and send text messages across African as regional integration blocs move to abolish roaming charges.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) are working on mechanisms that will see up to 40 African countries harmonise roaming charges across the board.

“Although the pricing of voice services in many African countries was becoming competitive and comparable with the rest of the world, the cost of broadband continued to be out of reach for most people,” read a report during the 10th meeting of the Ministers of the 19 Comesa countries in Lusaka.

The Association of Regulators of Information and Communications for Eastern and Southern Africa was asked to conduct studies on reducing the roaming charges across Comesa countries so that a decision can be taken at the next meeting.

Likewise, Ecowas agreed to abolish mobile phone roaming fees from the beginning of 2018. The decision was reached at a meeting of ministers in charge of ICT from the regional bloc in the Cape Verdean capital, Praia.

The ministers said the Praia Resolution was part of the bloc’s efforts to establish a single digital market.

Zambia, Bostwana, and Zimbabwe — have also agreed on a pilot project to lower roaming charges.

The industry telecommunication regulator said the wholesale and retail tariffs will be reduced annually in line with a glide path approved by ICT ministers from southern Africa.

Already Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have harmonised their calling charges under the One Network Area (ONA). Calls within this network have already been slashed by 12 US cents per minute while there are no charges for incoming calls since implementation of the ONA in 2015.

The ONA is a regional framework comprising countries that have agreed to waive or manage roaming charges and other surcharges on telecommunications traffic. When executed, the One Africa Network will see calling rates reduce dramatically across the continent.

Burundi and Tanzania are yet to join the ONA but talks are underway to find a mechanism to harmonise the roaming rates.

South Sudan is already part of ONA, making all charges for calls between the countries equivalent to local calls. This has led to a minimum 400 per cent increase in volume of calls — a direct benefit to EAC citizens and African businesses operating across the region’s borders.

Previously, making calls across the EAC was more expensive than calling any other continent.

Roaming charges are an important source of revenue for telecoms companies.

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