3 January 2013

Kenya: Consumer Group Opposes Penalty for Unlisted SIMs

Nairobi — The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) has condemned a decision by the Communication Commission of Kenya to fine subscribers Sh300,000 or jail them for three years for using unregistered SIM cards.

Cofek Secretary General Stephen Mutoro said that the only penalty subscribers should face for using unregistered SIM cards is disconnection from the service provider.

Once disconnected, subscribers will have 90 days to recover their numbers, but Mutoro emphasised that the failure by providers to disconnect should not be the problem of subscribers.

Mutoro emphasised that Cofek supports the CCK's initiative to register SIM cards, but explained that the manner in which the registration is being conducted is not foolproof, because people are using IDs that don't belong to them.

He added that the registration's purpose is to make sure that customer details are correct, but pointed out that there are no efforts by providers to register users.

On Wednesday, Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said that mobile telephone operators face a fine of up to Sh1.8 billion for failing to switch off about six million unregistered lines on their networks.

He explained that they will now also bear intermediary liability for criminal acts committed by persons using unregistered lines on their networks; a fine of Sh350,000 for every line found and a further Sh300,000 slapped on the subscribers found using unlisted lines.

Ndemo emphasised that the registration is aimed at stemming cases of criminal activities such as fraud, extortion, kidnapping and hate speech perpetuated through mobile phones.

The CCK also extended to Friday, the deadline for Safaricom, Airtel, Essar and Orange to block all unregistered lines or face the full force of the law.

Currently, 80 percent of subscribers have been registered.

Preliminary data from the CCK just before the expiry of the December 31, 2012 deadline indicated Safaricom had the highest registration rate among its peers at 85.2 percent and will increase its subscriber market share from 63.6 percent to 67.4 percent, although some 2.9 million subscribers have been disconnected.

Airtel had registered 82.5 percent, while Essar and Orange have registered 65 percent and 63.7 percent respectively.

Disconnected Safaricom customers account for 47.9 percent of industry subscribers.

Safaricom Director of Corporate Affairs Nzioka Waita said the switch off process is still in its very early stages and will require refinement over time to ensure minimal negative impact on customers who genuinely want to comply with the law, but are constrained by logistical or other genuine challenges.

He acknowledged that those in geographically remote areas are not well served by dealers of mobile operators and added that as the largest mobile operator in the region, Safaricom appreciates the importance of the exercise and its rationale and they will play their part as defined in the law.

The bulk of SIM cards disconnected will include those used in tablet computers and Internet modems for Safaricom.

Despite registration having been commenced in 2010, Mutoro explained that the low registration rate can be attributed to SIM card vendors who relapsed on the back of cut-throat competition.

To register SIM cards, subscribers are required to give their full names, physical and postal addresses, date of birth and physical and alternative contacts to the service providers.

Companies and individual subscribers, including minors, are required to register their SIM cards through the names of their shareholders, parents or guardians, while organisations and small businesses will have to provide users with their official numbers and physical location.

Parents have to register lines on behalf of their children.

Kenya is following in the footsteps of Nigeria and Rwanda, which introduced hefty fines against telecommunication companies that fail to meet quality checks.

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