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Telecoms race against time to avoid penalty

A fisherman talking on phone

Telecommunication firms in the region are racing to have all their customers registered within a stipulated time before they suffer the kind of penalty that MTN received in Nigeria recently.

In Uganda, the firms including MTN, Africell and Airtel have told their customers who may not be able to reach their service centres to register online.
By November 30, all Sim card holders are expected to have registered and the remaining ones must be switched off, according to regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

In a statement, MTN Uganda told its subscribers: “MTN will be disconnecting unregistered and partially-registered Sim cards with effect on Monday 30th November 2015.”

Brian Gouldie, the CEO of MTN MTN Uganda, told the media last week that they had more than 300,000 of their subscribers unregistered. They were partially switched off on November 16, and they could not make calls although they were able to receive calls. UCC estimates that close to one million unregistered lines are in circulation.

Meanwhile, Africell has put up prizes for its customers who come out to register their cards. They would be given t-shirts, caps, and money. Isaac Kalemba, the media relations specialist at UCC, told The Observer on Monday that telecom firms’ deadline to have all people register had expired two years back.

“This time was just given to them to make sure everyone is registered. After November 30, it will just be punitive action,” Kalemba said.

The Observer has established that some telecom firms had implored the regulator to have the deadline extended up to at least the end of this year. 

After several extensions, the Sim card registration drive closed on September 30, 2013 but the UCC realised so many people had either not or been partially registered.

The Communications Authority of Kenya announced last month that it would give the firms there a grace period of 90 days to have all their subscribers registered. Safaricom and Airtel are the biggest players in Kenya.

After the Nigerian regulatory authority fined MTN a record $5.2bn for refusing to disconnect unregistered subscribers, telecom firms aren’t taking chances.

In September, ICT ministers from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan met in Nairobi where they agreed to harmonise Sim registration network to be able to detect crime at a regional level.

Uganda would be able to recognise a Kenyan-registered Sim card from its end and trace the owner in case it is used to commit crime. Kenya would also be able to do vice versa.

With the region on alert to avert terrorism threats, Sim card registration is crucial in tracking information. It is believed that other crimes such as robbery and murder would reduce as a result of registration.


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