March 6, 2023

Experts demand govts’ support end to roaming charges for ECOWAS citizens



By Victoria Ojeme

A group of telecommunications industry experts have asked governments in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to support initiatives to end roaming fees in the regions.

This is what happens in the European Union. When you travel outside your home country to another EU country, you don’t have to pay any additional charges to use your mobile phone. Your calls, text messages (SMS) and data use are charged at domestic rates, i.e. the same price as calls, texts and data within your home country.

In West Africa, the Managing Director, of Radiant Skills Nigeria Ltd, Abuja, Temple Iheanacho, said that the requisite political will is needed to ensure seamless roaming within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.

Iheanacho made the submission during the Delocalised Meeting of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Information Technology/Education, Science and Culture/Trade Customs and Free Movement in Niamey, Republic of Niger.

Speaking on the topic ‘Roaming and Recommendations on Regional Mobile Roaming Guidelines which includes: Mobile Network Operators/Service Providers and Regulatory Authorities in ECOWAS,’ Iheanacho also said with determination, the ECOWAS sub-region “can crush the mountains of fear and doubt in ourselves.”

The former Head of Data Centre and Operations Division, ECOWAS Commission, further said the sub-region can find a way through the most difficult situations and does not mean being insensitive to the reality of the situation as it affects some of the member states.

He added that the determination of the sub-region depended greatly on the strength of its desire or how important the sub-region considered roaming.

“The EU roaming was a successful political move and had a great economic impact on both consumers and mobile operators.

“If this had worked effectively in Europe and Asia, there is no reason why it should not work in the ECOWAS region.

“All that is needed for success in this endeavour, is the political will and the determination of all stakeholders (Heads of Governments, Ministers in Charge of Telecommunications and Digital Economy, ECOWAS Commission, ECOWAS Parliament, ECOWAS Court of Justice, National Regulatory Authorities (NRA), Network Operators and Service Providers, etc). They all should, as a matter of urgency, come together to agree on this,” Iheanacho said.

On improving mobile roaming in the ECOWAS sub-region, Iheanacho said he was of the view that all recommendations for the sub-region to implement seamless roaming according to acceptable international standards have been made.

Iheanacho further said what is lacking is the political will and collective determination of all stakeholders to achieve the goal.

“I am again calling on all stakeholders without exception (Heads of Governments, Ministers in charge of Telecommunications and Digital economy, ECOWAS Commission, ECOWAS Parliament, ECOWAS Court of Justice, NRAs, Nos, WATRA, Service providers etc.) to come together for this to succeed,” Iheanacho also said.

Amongst other recommendations, Iheanacho said a regulator must be there to ensure proper regulation of MNOs and SPs in the provision of high-quality and affordable roaming services to consumers.

He also said that set standards must be adhered to by all, while also saying that inter-operator agreements must be enhanced.

“MNOs and SPs should work together to enhance inter-operator agreements to ensure seamless and affordable roaming services for consumers. This could involve negotiating better roaming tariffs, improving network coverage and service offerings, and implementing security measures to protect consumers’ data and privacy,” Iheanacho stated.

Speaking earlier, Iheanacho said the cost of roaming in the sub-region remained a major challenge for many consumers.

He added that high fees were often being charged for international calls, data usage, and SMS services.

“This has led to a partial adoption of roaming services, with many consumers choosing to turn off roaming services or to switch to local SIM cards when travelling,” Iheanacho further said.

Iheanacho added that services on offer seemed to be different from country to country as there have been reported cases of poor quality and availability of roaming services across the region, with some countries offering better coverage and services than others, due to lack of standardization.

Consumers, he stated, have been finding it difficult to rely on roaming services, leading to a fragmented user experience.

In his contribution, a co-Chair of the Customs, Trade and Free Movement Committee of the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Zargo Stephen, commended Iheanacho for the presentation.

Zargo, who doubles as a Member of the Liberian Parliament, called on Nigeria to spearhead the seamless roaming within the sub-region by playing the desired political role in a way and manner that places political benefit over and above economic benefit.

“It is commendable because the presenter was so practical with the presentation. He hit the nail on the head by the way and manner in which he did the presentation. He was simplistic, he was practical.

“As he travelled from Nigeria, up to the country he went through before coming to Niger, he highlighted all the roaming experiences he went through.

“One thing that is to be taken away from it is that, as big as Nigeria is in the region, not every aspect of Nigeria should demand economic benefit. A political dividend in my mind is far bigger than economic benefit.

“If Nigeria will allow a country like The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia, smaller countries to survive along with Nigeria, then Nigeria will be strengthening its political position in the region.

“So, not all of the actions or reactions should be economically driven. They should be politically driven. And there is no reason why a region with that huge number of people with 44 operators would come to our region. It is because they see the potential. And if the potential is there, let our national regulators ensure that they are regulated in a way and manner that brings satisfaction to the people that we represent,” Zargo said.

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