East African governments and mobile operators should negotiate a reduction in the tax rate and call charges for communication within the region in order to facilitate business in the integration process.
The East African Communication Organisation (EACO) believes that high VAT charges on calls has consistently forced operators to increase tariffs, in the end affecting customers and traders in the region despite the desire to fully integrate as bloc.
Speaking at the EACO awareness seminar in Kigali, yesterday, Chief Executive Hodge Semakula urged governments in the region to reduce their levies on mobile operators so as "not to kill the information society."
"It is a dilemma because governments need the money from taxes to facilitate development, whereas the mobile operators also need to make profits," Semakula said. "EACO can't enforce standards, but we lobby governments to reduce taxes on airtime. Studies show that inter-connection rates between service providers are still high."
Kenya remains the region's cheapest place to make a phone call, with an average KSh3.5 (Rwf26) per minute.
Under the four-year path set by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (Rura), mobile interconnection charges this year are supposed to fall to Rwf28 from Rwf32, and ultimately to Rwf22 by January 2014.
However, Rura introduced a roaming fee of Rwf132.2 per minute in July, last year, which increased the cost of making and receiving calls while abroad.
"Local rates have been reducing in the member countries, but not roaming charges. To facilitate mobile operators' desire to harmonise call charges, all parties involved must look into cutting the roaming fees within the region, while at the same time harmonising ICT and communication policies," Semakula said.
EACO's mandate as a member of the International Telecommunication Union is to create a favourable policy environment that facilitates investment in the region's communication sector.
Until last year, the body had no permanent secretariat as it rotated annually among the five EAC states, but in September, last year, EACO launched its headquarters in Kigali.
Its campaign was chaired by East African Community Affairs minister Monique Mukaruliza, and attended by EAC public and private dignitaries in the ICT sector.