New Vision (Kampala)

23 February 2013

Uganda: Two Million Mobile Phone Users to Be Switched Off

As February 28 draws close, there is fear that many mobile phone subscribers may be switched off if the regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), does not extend the registration deadline. The exercise has been marred with inconsistencies, confusion and uncertainties.

"The deadline still stands. We have noticed the challenges facing the exercise, but we will make our decision on whether to extend the deadline or not, basing on the final report regarding the response. This decision will be reached on 28th," said Isaac Kalembe, the media relations specialist at UCC.

Call re-echoed

UCC's executive director Godfrey Mutabaazi said the decision to switch off the sim cards still stands.

Recently, a group of journalists, under their umbrella body, Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda, went to court to block the switching off of unregistered sim cards, citing insufficient public consultations and sensitisation.

"We are following the law and unless the court says otherwise, we are not bowing to any pressure from any group," Mutabaazi said.

Irregularities cited

Subscribers to the different telephone service providers are complaining of several irregularities. One female subscriber went to register her sim card, only to be told it had already been registered by another person.

Gerald Muhwezi, a sales executive, received a text message thanking him for registering his sim card, yet he had not done so. A number of subscribers have registered, but keep getting a negative response whenever they send verification prompts regarding their registration status.

Kalembe said in March last year, a number of agents hired by the different mobile service operators were not fully aware of the requirements. He said this is partly why some people who registered have not received verification of their sim card registration.

He says some people confuse mobile money registration with the mandatory sim card registration.

Kalembe adds that perhaps because of the overwhelming response at the start of the exercise, a number of agents did not submit all the forms of those who registered to the service providers. This, he notes, may be part of the reason a section of subscribers, who claim they registered, but have not got verification of their registration.

More people register

Nonetheless, Kalembe notes that as the deadline draws near, the response to register is overwhelming. Currently, between 75 and 80% subscribers have registered, as a result of the massive awareness campaign.

Some gents are making money off uninformed subscribers, by asking them for money to register their sim cards.

Airtel's Joseph Kanyamunyu says: "We have set up registration points and we request our customers to use them to avoid being fleeced."

For the elderly and disadvantaged, Kanyamunyu notes that they have mobile registration teams travelling across the country to register customers, who could not make it to the retail outlets.

Fiona Wall, the Airtel publicist, says since a photocopy of a valid identity card is among the requirements, those without IDs are required to use letters from LCs, who unfortunately, are charging exorbitant fees. Sim card registration is aimed at fighting mobile phone crime, including phone theft, unsolicited and threatening messages among others.

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