Uganda: Over 4.8 Million Phone Users Risk Disconnection

Kampala — Close to five million mobile phone users in Uganda risk being disconnected from their respective networks after failing to meet a Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) requirement.

This comes after telecom network providers expressed fear that a big number of their subscribers have not heeded to call by UCC to register their SIM cards.

Those that have not registered have until February 28 to do so, that is less than a month from now. In an interview with East African Business Week, Justin Ntabgabo, the MTN Uganda Corporate Affairs Manager, said only 5 million customers out of their estimated 7.5 million customers on the MTN Network have registered.

It leaves them with over 2.5 million customers on the brink of being deactivated. Airtel Uganda's Pheona Wall said they have registered almost 50% of subscribers on their network estimated to be 4.6 million. A similar scenario is being felt by other service providers who by law are conducting the registration exercise.

Ntabgoba believes that despite MTN making steady progress in the registration of its subscribers, public awareness about the SIM Card Registration is still low especially in rural areas. She faults the lack of proper identification as a hindrance.

"There is no national identification system in place; as a result a large number of subscribers is not able to register," Ntabgoba said adding that they are working with UCC to complete the registration project and address all challenges.

In an interview on the progress of the exercise Fred Otunnu the Head of Communication at UCC revealed that they are hopeful that the deadline will come with all Ugandans registered but the telecom companies who are in charge of registering their customers say it's going to be hard.

"We are doing our best to beat the deadline but we shall be thankful if UCC sets a new deadline," Pheona Wall the Public Relations Manager at airtel Uganda said.

Airtel's Wall stated the lack of national or any legal identification document, a mandatory requirement, has not enabled some people to register, a challenge UCC acknowledged.

"Some of the challenges have been the requirements especially with the rural folks where getting an identification document is a problem.

"The other problem has been access to the center points of registration. In some areas they have to walk long distances to come to towns." UCC's Otunnu said.

Top of the requirement before one registers a SIM card is a legal ID, letter from Local Council one (LC1) from your area of residence, passport photos, bio-data like full names, date of birth, nationality, place of birth, name and contact of a close relative among other things.

The high cost being spent to deploy registration points in different areas was another challenge mentioned considering that the distribution infrastructure requires much more administration and logistics across the country.

With just three week to the end of the exercise UCC and the operators are in an ambiguous situation not decided whether to deactivate the unregistered Simcards or reschedule the end of the exercise.

Well as UCC is non committal on whether the deadlines for SIM card registration they are leaving it open preferring to do an assessment and to review the entire project before making imminent decisions.

The registration exercise of subscriber identification module (SIM) cards in Uganda is stalling due to the lack of proper identification documents both telecom operators and Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) officials have said ahead of the March 1 2013 deadline. In a move to curb illicit use of mobile telephone services by consumers, the regulatory arm of government, UCC, March last year launched a nationwide exercise to register all old and new SIM cards.

All telecom operators in Uganda are under obligation to register all SIM cards on their network. SIM card registration in Uganda is part of the regional exercise. Under the umbrella body called the East Africa Communications Organization (EACO), the telecom sector regulators in East Africa region set mid 2012 as the deadline to have all existing SIM cards registered.

In Kenya and Tanzania at least 80% of SIM cards in each country have been registered. Uganda Communication Commission believes that as technology becomes a necessity in our every day transactions the exposure to ICT based crimes is also increasing. Mobile money, mobile banking and utility bills payment as well as communication are the most affected ones requiring regulatory protection.

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