​Vietnam urges Southeast Asian neighbors to ditch regional roaming charges

A single mobile rate across the region would advance formation of a truly borderless and ‘flat’ bloc of countries

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc speaks at the 2018 World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Hanoi on September 12, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Vietnam is calling on mobile network operators in Southeast Asia to get rid of roaming charges within the region to facilitate people flow and boost trade and tourism between countries.

The initiative was raised by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at a plenary session of the 2018 World Economic Forum on ASEAN (WEF ASEAN) in Hanoi on Wednesday.

ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a socio-economic and political bloc comprising ten countries in Southeast Asia, which are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Wednesday’s session, titled “ASEAN Priorities in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” saw regional leaders setting the scene for the 2018 WEF ASEAN by outlining key concerns and choices in an era of technological disruption.

During his turn to address over 1,000 delegates of the economic forum, PM Phuc reiterated Vietnam’s initiative in erasing roaming charges, or lowering roaming charges to as low as domestic charges, among mobile carriers within the region.

The idea had been announced at a press conference the same morning by Vietnam’s acting Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung.

"I want to share the idea of developing one ASEAN, meaning a flat ASEAN – no roaming charges or roaming charges as low as domestic charges so that everybody can travel but feel like they are at home," Hung was quoted by The Nation as saying.

"Since developing countries don't have a solid legal framework, they are more flexible to develop new policies to adapt and accept changes," he added.

Pham Duc Long, general director of Vietnam National Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), said he welcomed the idea of no roaming charges among ASEAN.

VNPT owns Vinaphone, one of Vietnam’s three major cellular carriers alongside MobiFone and military-run Viettel, which make up approximately 90 percent of the market share.

“VNPT already has a plan in place to implement this initiative at the government’s call,” Long said.

Hoang Son, deputy general director of Viettel, considers the initiative a good way to generate “true connection” among ASEAN member states, but that high consensus in the group must be achieved if it was to become a success.

“With support and determination from other members of ASEAN to go through with it, [the initiative] will bring direct benefits to residents in the area as well as boost intraregional trade and tourism,” Son asserted.

Viettel has since January 2017 scrapped roaming charges entirely for the Indochina area, with includes Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

It recently added Myanmar to the list after the successful launch of its Mytel telecoms brand in the country in June

The telecoms giant is looking forward to doing the same in East Timor, which is not an ASEAN country, according to a company representative.

The 2018 WEF ASEAN, running from September 11 to 13 in Hanoi, was the biggest ever organized with the participation of over 1,000 delegates from 43 countries, who joined 53 official sessions and 35 community discussions on issues of regional interest.

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