If judged by the criterion of relative ease of electronic connectivity within the region as against outside, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a failure. If SAARC is real, prices for intra-SAARC calls must be lower than for calls to points outside SAARC. Roaming within the region should be cheaper and less opaque than outside the region. Both are not so, despite some improvements since 2008 says LIRNEasia, a regional think-tank.
LIRNEasia research manager Shazna Zuhyle said, “Calls between member countries were often much more expensive than making calls to nations much further away such as the United States or the United Kingdom. There was more transparency in Europe where the EU has brought in laws to slash communication rates within the region.”
A SAARC citizen may pay between USD 0.31 and USD 3.29 to make a local call while roaming within the region. The highest cost is paid by Maldivian roaming in number of SAARC countries, and the lowest is for an Indian roaming in Maldives. Using a local pre-paid SIM from the visiting country to make a local off-net call is more cost effective. Instead of USD 3.29, the Maldivian roaming in Bangladesh would have to pay only USD 0.01 - 345 times less than the roaming tariff.
Some intra-SAARC international direct dial (IDD) tariffs were lowered in response to the 15th SAARC Summit directive. However none of the countries have a flat rate for their regional partners. Overall calling Maldives is high for both SAARC fixed line and mobile users. There are further instances where some countries (e.g. India) are favored over others and are offered better rates. Calling India from Sri Lanka costs USD 0.03 for fixed and USD 0.05 for mobile (the lowest in the region).
Even with these inconsistencies, it is still considerably cheaper for a user to make an international voice call home as opposed to a roaming call home. As illustrated in the figure below, an Indian user may pay up to 10.75 times more to make a call home, while roaming.
Inter-operator discounts offer cost effective schemes for roamers. However, it is subject to selection and availability of the preferred network. However, users are often unaware of how to use roaming efficiently; selecting preferred (discounted) networks while roaming for instance, which fuels pertinent issues such as “bill shock”. The emphasis should be on ensuring transparency and consistency in pricing.