East Africa

Phone firms want deadline extended

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At least 9,600,000 mobile phone subscribers face disconnection within the next 48 hours if the Uganda Communications Commission declines a request from telecoms and some legislators to extend the deadline for registration.

UCC, which is expected to meet a House committee today, set the March 1 deadline last year for registration of SIM cards — the component that facilitates connection of a cellular phone onto a mobile telecommunications network.

Yesterday, the telecom companies—Warid, Uganda Telecom, Aitel, MTN and Orange told the House’s Information Communication Technology Committee that out of 16 million active subscribers, only 60 per cent have so far registered their SIM cards.

There were separate concerns in the committee that the government might lose revenue if UCC disables the unregistered SIM cards. The committee heard that the registration process has been slow, particularly in the countryside, where photocopying services and other requirements for SIM card registration are absent.

The telecoms unanimously asked for a one-year extension citing the “enormous challenges” they have encountered in the process. But some lawmakers disagreed, instead proposing a three months extension to the one-year registration period as a middle ground.

Calling the 60 per cent registration achieved a “tremendous success”, the telecoms’ representatives, however, observed that the absence of national identity cards, costs for registration (estimated at $4) illiteracy rates, especially in the countryside, among other challenges, have hampered the process.

The committee also heard that the exercise has been marred by inconsistencies, confusion and uncertainties. But the telecoms promised that there will be a clean-up exercise after the registration process.

Matters arising
“We concede, in the process of registration there are issues concerning data integrity. Because of the volume of work involved, we are unable to do quality checks, but there will be a clean up phase,” said MTN’s James Macho who led the team.

The telecoms said their request for extension is based on similar experiences in Ghana and Kenya. Amidst a reluctance to reveal their subscriber numbers, Mr Macho still told the committee that MTN has registered five million while Orange’s Doreen Byengoma said they have registered 72 per cent but did not delve into the specifics. Out of an estimated four million subscribers, Airtel has registered about 2.5 million.

Warid’s Shallendra Naidu and Uganda Telecom’s David Holliday told the committee that an extension of the deadline would help them capture the remaining 40 per cent.

“It’s one thing to register and it’s another thing to enter data, clean up and validate the information. All this takes time and that’s why we are requesting for a one-year extension,” Ms Byengoma said. “You can register your SIM card and still get a message that your SIM card is not registered.”

The regulator’s Executive Director, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, is expected in the ICT Committee today to respond to the appeals for an extension among other issues raised by the telecom companies.

ymugerwa@ug.nationmedia.com

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