Reduced roaming fees tops SADC’s agenda
By Tileni Mongudhi
DURBAN – Internet connectivity for all, bridging the digital divide, creating a knowledge-based economy and moving towards a SADC free of roaming fees, are what topped this week’s SADC ICT Ministers meeting here. The meeting focused on how the region could be part of the fourth industrial revolution which looks at transforming economies via technology and the cyber space as opposed to conventional means.
And the region’s ICT ministers made it clear that SADC cannot afford to be left behind if the region is to transform into a knowledge-based economy and transform the lives of its citizens. After deliberations and presentations from various stakeholders, it became clear that the region would have to take radical steps if it is to catch up with the rest of the world. In her keynote address at the opening ceremony, South Africa’s Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo highlighted that people residing in the SADC region had interconnected relationships, and that the cost to communicate across countries between families and friends was made much more difficult by the near prohibitive costs on roaming.
“As we meet here as business, government and the regulators, we need to seriously ponder on how we can make inter-connectedness easier for the people of the SADC region. We owe it to them,” she said, adding that the high roaming costs was one way of preventing ICTs from being a catalyst for development.
Dlodlo added that in 2014 the SADC Ministers directed national regulatory authorities (NRA’s) in the region to intervene and regulate both the wholesale and retail roaming tariffs using the glide paths provided for the next three years. The aim was to reduce the cost of roaming so to increase investment in the region as well as ensure that citizens also had affordable communication as they travelled and worked within the region.
“To ensure this, we must facilitate ‘Roam Like at Home’ (RLAH) principle,” she said adding that SADC citizens currently avoid using roaming services while travelling across the SADC countries because of excessive pricing by service providers. This had resulted in financial burdens for many consumers and families of migrants. Dlodlo said this week’s meeting was critical because the SADC ministers had a social obligation towards their citizens. “But further, reduced communication costs will also enable other critical developments in the ICT sector for our region.
“These include universal broadband roll-out and universal broadcasting services. We will also during this year’s meeting, discuss strategies and programmes for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our region. All these require efficient, affordable, reliable and universal broadband access and services,” she emphasised. She added that the ministers were cognisant of the fact that the ICT regulatory scene was fluid and that current laws were no longer able to cope new innovations and that new strategies were required to ensure stability.
This, she said, also meant that there were emerging technologies which also needed to be considered but may not have been part of the working agenda initially. “These technologies and applications thereof have become so topical thus requiring inclusion in debates at our forums. They have influenced fluctuations to traffic volumes of the communications operators.
These have been both positive and negative depending on which revenue line is under consideration,” Dlodlo said. Namibia’s ICT Minister Tjekero Tweya, shared Dlodlo’s sentiment and assured the media that the roaming issue was being debated so that an acceptable costing system was found.