Thursday, February 28, 2013

UCC to extend phone SIM card registration deadline

Mobile phone SIM card registration will not be closed today, MPs on the House committee on ICT heard yesterday.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is today expected to announce an extension of the deadline to 180 days although service providers had requested for an extension of 365 days.
Mr Patrick Mwesigwa, the acting UCC executive director, yesterday said the one year requested by service providers is too long.
“In view of the request and challenges, we shall consider the extension and give a public statement tomorrow (Thursday),” he said, adding: “There is a good cause for us to consider an extension.”
UCC officials indicated that the regulator has already considered extending by 90 days for registration and another 90 days for verification of the captured data, although all this will be dependent on the outcome of today’s consultations with service providers and the Ministry of Security.
Some MPs on the committee had felt a one year extension would be appropriate considering the challenges in rural areas, while others asked for an immediate termination of the process, citing what they called the lukewarm response to such government matters.
“We shouldn’t punish those who haven’t finalised the process because of their economic inability even as we need a disciplined way of responding to such programmes,” said Bukhlooli Central MP Wafula Oguttu.
Mr Oguttu cited his constituency where one must walk 11 km to access the nearest registration centre in Bugiri Town after paying Shs5,000 for an LC letter coupled with other expenses of photocopying and taking a passport photograph.
Registering of SIM cards, which started in March 2012, should have ended today and a failure to allow an extension would have meant that at least 9.6 million mobile phone users would have been affected.
Uganda currently has 16 million phone users of whom UCC says only 70 per cent have registered their SIM cards.
The process started after the passing of the Interception of Communications Act 2010 which required compulsory registration of all cards.
The owner of the process is the Ministry of Security which designated UCC to oversee the implementation. Among its objectives is to help law enforcement agencies identify mobile phone owners and track criminals who use the phones for illegal activities.

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Sim-cards registration fate: Communiqué expectedPublish Date: Feb 28, 2013

Sim-cards registration fate: Communiqué expectedPublish Date: Feb 28, 2013
Sim-cards registration fate: Communiqué expected
UCC’s acting Executive Director, Patrick Mwesigwa. Photo by Rogers Okwany newvision
By Moses Walubiri

The fate of over five million mobile phone subscribers who are yet to register their sim-cards is not so bleak after-all, as Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) considers extending the exercise for about a year.

The exercise which kicked off in early March last year, following a government directive aimed at tracking criminals who use phones for illegal activities, has been beset by a host of challenges ranging from subscribers’ apathy, to absence of genuine identity cards.

UCC’s acting Executive Director, Patrick Mwesigwa on Wednesday told MPs on the Information and Communication Technology committee about planned meetings with relevant ministries and other stakeholders ahead of a communiqué expected to be issued today.

“We are making consultations and we shall make an announcement on March 1. UCC is considering their request because some of the challenges they have raised are not of their own making,” Mwesigwa said in reference to demands by telecom operators to have the exercise extended.

However, he was quick to shoot down talk that the extension could be for another 12 months as demanded by telecom operators in an interface with legislators on Tuesday.

“We feel a year is too long,” Mwesiga clarified.

After consultations with stakeholders, Mwesigwa said UCC was open to grant telecom operators extension of the deadline for a period of 90 days and an additional 90 days for validation of data collected.
Uganda has over 16m mobile phone subscribers, according to the latest quarterly report from telecom operators released in December last year.

UCC clarified that only those sim-cards that have been used to transact any business – texting, calling or mobile money transfers – in the last 90 days are deemed active by the telecom operators.

With an estimated 70% subscribers already registered, according to UCC, close to five million people will be without communication if the registration window shuts tomorrow as per the deadline.

However, MPs failed to agree on the need to extend the deadline with some like Odonga Otto and Bernard Atiku advising UCC “not to bend the rules for the undisciplined few.”

“Only criminals are wary of registering their sim-cards. UCC should go ahead and disable all those sim-cards that are not registered, only then will the affected users register them,” Otto said.

Mwesigwa, however, rejected calls by MPs Paula Turyahikayo and Vicent Bagire to have only rural areas enjoy an extension of the registration exercise, saying any decision on sim-card registration will be implemented across the board.

Telecom operators want the deadline extended citing challenges in data collection that have been occasioned by absence of national identity card.

They also deem the exercise “very expensive” compared to other countries where similar exercises have been concluded due to what they called “stringent demands” for registration.

With UCC set to disable counterfeit handsets this year, telecom operators have blamed the exercise for the contraction in their business as subscribers continue to nurse misgivings about what government intends to do with their data.

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