Low, uniform telecom tariff within SAARC key to regional ties

"The government must, through telecom operators, provide low and uniform telecom tariff across SAARC nations. As of now one is spending 64 times more if using the roaming phone within the SAARC nations," Sri Lanka-based non-profit research organisation LIRNEasia said in a report on Information and Communication Technologies and Services Trade within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

"The roaming market is very expensive...," LIRNEasia Chairman and CEO Rohan Samarajiva said. The SAARC grouping includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

When there is a lot of trade, people need to coordinate and low tariffs will facilitate the trade among the SAARC nations, Samarajiva added. "By making uniform tariff among the SAARC nations... government in a way are encouraging people to use their own phones with international roaming instead of local phones here," Samarajiva said.

As far as intra-SAARC fixed telephony is concerned, Sri Lanka offers the lowest rates, treating all SAARC countries equally. It must be cheaper or easier to communicate within SAARC. Maldives has the highest intra-SAARC calling rates for most of the SAARC countries, followed by Bhutan, the study says.

Answering a question on the role of private telecom players, Samarajiva added, "They provided the connectivity, but they themselves have not really solved this issue... The respective governments should exert pressure on them even now so that telecom tariff are low and uniform within the region."

He pointed out that in the European Union, no matter where a telecom customer is, he can roam within Europe at no extra cost. Even Google seems to be offering lower tariffs than the mobile operators, he added.

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