Rwanda and Gabon have introduced One Area Network, an initiative under which the two central African nations will get rid of roaming charges, allowing their citizens to enjoy reduced calling rates, according to a news report. The initiative is being launched by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Gabonese counterpart, Ali Bongo. Kagame said the development will serve to integrate the continent and enable citizens of the two countries to communicate cheaply. Kagame also said that the digital integration will serve to achieve the goal of having a single digital market. In order to achieve affordable and accessible internet, it is important to involve the private sector, Kagame noted, adding that wide access to broadband is difficult to achieve without public-private partnerships.
In the European Union, as we have written on several occasions recently, extra roaming fees attracted strong opposition from many policymakers and members of the public and as a result are being phased out. In other markets, operators are making significant revenue from roaming surcharges and there is no move afoot from state regulators or industry consortiums to eliminate them. This initiative from Africa is interesting because shows that, at least in the opinion of decision-makers in that region, eliminating roaming can be a stimulus to MNO revenues and to the regional mobile economy generally. An initiative similar to the present one was implemented in the Northern Corridor region, which covers Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya; it increased mobile traffic in the region by about 800 percent and thereby increased profits for operators in the region. Kagame intends the One Area Network to be the first step toward the goal of achieving a single digital market for Africa. In that sense, his agreement with Ali Bongo is noteworthy, in that the two countries do not share a border; the digital unification of a region can transcend traditional geographic concepts.