Cross section of participants during the launch of the free regional roaming services at the Miatta Conference Centre
In an effort to facilitate regional integration, the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), has launched the free regional roaming services in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone, which is the only English-speaking country to join free regional roaming services, has become the eighth member after Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso.
The theme for the launch was “roam like home, roam like local”, and was done at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown on Monday, December 16, 2019.
NATCOM’s Director-General, Maxwell H. Massaquoi, said it was not easy to accomplish the task of bringing the free regional roaming services to Sierra Leone but it was bound to happen.
He disclosed that they held a meeting with the President Sierra Leone, HE Julius Maada Bio, who urged them to be part of the free regional roaming so as to alleviate the high charges of making and receiving calls on Sierra Leoneans who travel to those countries in the sub-region.
“Our people have been yearning for this and it is now available for Sierra Leoneans instant. “I want to thank the government for providing the political will and mobile network operators (MNOs), who have made tremendous contributions to making this a reality,” he said.
Antigou Cherif, Director-General of Guinea’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPT), said December 16, 2019, is a new dawn in the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector in Sierra Leone.
He said the free regional roaming services is the first step that has been taken to enhance regional integration, adding that there are considerations to also have a free roaming data for internet connectivity.
“NATCOM’s Director-General, Maxwell H. Massaquoi-made several trips to Guinea in an effort to ensure that free roaming is brought to Sierra Leone. It has been agreed that the first 300 minutes of making and receiving calls in any of the eight member countries is free,” he said.
He noted that they have asked consumers to check the prices when they visit those countries and give feedbacks to the regulators in the eight beneficiary countries.
A Civil Society Activist, William Sao-Lamin, who spoke on behalf of consumers, said the launch of the free regional roaming would facilitate trade, enhance exchange program for school-going children, improve the living standards of the poor, and encourage tourism among other benefits.
He however called on NATCOM to include Nigeria and Ghana to the list because many Sierra Leoneans go to these countries too on business and other activities.
Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Madam Mamadi Gobeh-Kamara, who did the official launch said the government is committed to improving communication in the country and supporting regional integration efforts.
She further went on to say that the launch of the free regional roaming services is not only beneficial to business people or tourists but those who live in the border areas.
“This will enable us to roam like home. It will position Sierra Leone for global competiveness. I want to use this opportunity to thank the management of NATCOM for bringing this benefit to us in Sierra Leone,” she said.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications who chaired the occasion, said the initiative of having a free roaming came up when they attended an ECOWAS meeting in Burkina Faso several months ago.
He said in that meeting, an ECOWAS mandate was given that by 31st December, 2019, member states must have free roaming services.
“Now that we have launched it in Sierra Leone, it will help us a lot. Previously, we have been receiving complaints from the people living in remote border areas that they have been facing challenges of accessing mobile networks from Sierra Leone in their localities. They said they pay extra charges to use mobile networks in neighbouring countries. The government has intervened and their worries are now over,” he said.
He noted that the launch of the free roaming will enable the ECOWAS sub-region to become one entity in terms of communication.
Sahr Momodu Sewah, Director of Regulatory Administration, said prior to the advent of the free roaming, Sierra Leoneans who were making and receiving calls in Guinea, used to pay a roaming fee of nineteen thousand, six hundred and seventy-two Leones (Le19, 672) from Orange Sierra Leone to Orange Guinea.
“The callers used to pay a normal roaming tariff of two thousand, and eighty-three Leones (Le2,083) and receivers used to pay seventeen thousand, five hundred and eighty-nine Leones (Le17,589), totaling to Le19,672,” he said.
The realization of the free regional raoming services (“roam like home, roam like local”) is in indeed the perfect Christmas gift to our Sierra Leonean compatriots and the communities of people in the eight ECOWAS countries who have initially embraced this initiative
Deputy Minister of Information and Communications: Madam Mamadi Gobeh-Kamara placing a call using a Guinean Sim card from Sierra Leone on a test of the free regional raoming service during the launch