There is need to harmonise regional calling rates to create a seamless customer experience, which would enhance East African Community (EAC) integration projects, regional telecom industry stakeholders have said.
This was during the One Area Network project of the northern corridor infrastructure meeting organised by Rwanda's Ministry of Youth and ICT last week in Kigali.
While opening the meeting, the Minister for Finance, Amb. Claver Gatete, highlighted the important role played by telecoms in fast-tracking regional integration.
"We therefore must work with them to realise the One Area Network Project," he said.
The meeting, sponsored by Airtel Rwanda, was attended by regional telecom operators, regulators and ICT ministers from the four Northern Corridor projects participating countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan.
There have been many complaints from the public, especially traders in the EAC bloc, over high roaming rates charged by some telecom firms. Discussions to scrap the charges or have minimal uniform rates are still ongoing between regional telecom operators and governments. The high roaming fees have, as a result, been identified as one of the barriers to trade in the EAC. The situation is so bad that calls from Rwanda to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are higher than when one is making calls to Europe, China or the Americas.
The Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, called on regional telecom operators and governments to work together to realise seamless roaming in the region.
"It is important that regional telecoms work together to make this communication milestone a reality," said John Nasasira, Uganda's Minister for ICT.
Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for ICT Fred Matiang'i called on the telecom industry players to establish a permanent platform for proactively engaging with the ministries on addressing the sector's challenges.
Regional leaders agreed to launch the One Area Network service by September, 2014 at the just-ended 6th Northern Corridor Heads of State and Governments Summit in Kigali.
Speaking at the event, the Airtel Rwanda managing director, Teddy Bhullar, underlined Airtel's support for the One Network initiative. Bhullar said the telecom's 'One Network' service across its 17 operations, including the East African Community bloc, allows customers across the region to enjoy free incoming calls and local airtime recharges.