The four East African countries along the northern corridor are considering capping roaming fees they said are hindering integration process, they jointly announced Tuesday evening.
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan this week began closed-door talks in Nairobi on integrating their ICT infrastructure and policies following a directive by the integration projects' summit of presidents during their meeting on October 28 in Kigali.
Ministers for ICT in those countries, except South Sudan that sent a representative, decried high international cost for mobile voice, messaging and data roaming in the region terming it "against the spirit of integration."
The ICT cluster of the so called East African Community's coalition of the willing said they will explore mechanisms to lower the charges "including defining wholesale and retail price caps for roaming charges based on best practices." They said other measures could include harmonisation of cross-boarder taxation regimes but remained non-committal on implementation timelines. Implementation, they said, will only be done after a comprehensive study and wider consultations with regional ICT sector players.
"It does not make sense to pay Sh30 for a call in the region while the same call to the US costs Sh3," Kenyan ICT secretary Fred Matiang'i said, insisting the inevitable downward review will be informed by empirical data. "We know, we hear ...and feel you that the high cost is real but we have began the process of lowering it."
The cluster chair, Ugandan ICT minister John Nasasira, reassured the real cost of roaming charges will be negotiated by operators themselves but "within agreed limits." "As governments we shall keep an eye and watch over the markets through the regulators," he said.
Region's largest telco, Safaricom, has blamed the high roaming costs on cross-border taxations.
"Roaming costs are not conducive to regional trade," CEO Bob Collymore said at AGM on September 12. Matiang'i said the four domestic operators resolved in a recent meeting with him to abide by recommendations of a study on actual cost of making a roaming call so that the planned reduction does not lead to operational losses.
Other priority areas agreed by the ministers include harmonisation of legal and policy framework for SIM registration and implementation of electronic immigration system to interconnect national ID.