15 January 2014

East Africa: E. Africa Call Rates to Fall

Photo: EAC
Tanzania has been cautioned against pulling out of the East African Community.

Making phone calls between Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan could become cheaper after the countries started the process to harmonise the charges across the region, it was announced on Monday.

Opening a technical meeting with delegates from EAC northern corridor countries (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan) at Serena hotel, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi said they were concerned that calling across the region was expensive.

This has raised concern so much so that mobile phone firms are being suspected of exploiting their consumers.

"It is actually cheaper for a member in east Africa to call in UK than call to Kenya," Mutabazi said.

He added that they were seeking to reduce or scrap roaming charges by setting a uniform charge for the region.

"International roaming rates are too expensive in east Africa," said Mutabazi. "We want to see why and what we can do to harmonise these charges as a way of facilitating the [EAC] integration."

Last December, ministers of ICT from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan met in Nairobi and formed a committee that would review charges and taxes on international calls and come up with a common position by February 2014. The committee, which met in Kampala on Monday and Tuesday, would then come up with recommendations.

In the 2013/14 budget, Uganda Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka introduced a tax on international calls to generate Shs 43bn - prompting telecoms to raise their charges. In Kenya and Rwanda, telecoms also increased charges owing to the taxes that were introduced on international calls.

The committee will also look into the issue of internet. They want to see that there is not a big difference between internet costs in the region. The cost of internet in Uganda remains the highest in the region, according to UCC, with Kenyan users getting the best deal.

Telecoms here say the problem is due to the tariffs that Kenyans are charging them for hosting their optic fibre cable.

"Uganda being a landlocked country, Kenya's [high] charges have an effect on the final cost of the internet [here]," said an official at one of the telecom companies.

Yet industry players argue that even when you factor in all the costs, internet should be far cheaper than it is today, suggesting internet providers are simply after abnormal profits.

This is what the regional communications authorities want to address.

Christopher Kimei, the director for licensing compliance and standards for the Communications Commission of Kenya, said: "We want to make it easier for one to move across the region and communicate at a reasonable cost. If the right policies are put in place, we can see that happen. Communication can be much cheaper."

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