Ghana’s Mobile SIM Card Deactivation Time-Bomb

July 1st 2011 will see the curtailment of mobile phone services for subscribers who have unregistered SIM cards. A time space of 18 months prior to the June 30th deadline had been given for registration. The given and main rationale for Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) registration cards is to ensure that criminals, agent provocateurs and other such elements will not have the technology at their disposal for their activities. Advocates say the benefits of such a scheme outweigh the costs. However, in a poorly networked society like Ghana, registering these SIM cards mean a huge cost outlay for telecom operators, since they bear the costs. In the rural areas, attaining local registration points in over 5000 rural localities has not been a cost effective endeavor. Coverage has obviously been affected and the overall 100% coverage by the June 2011 deadline is doubtful. While incurring these costs, telecom operators have been facing steady declines in subscriptions, with MTN recording declines in subscriptions of about three percent in the third quarter of 2010. Nearly 1.5 million of MTN’s subscribers have not been registered. The situation is equally dire for the other telecommunication operators. The use of many identification systems as a basis to identify and register subscribers is in itself flawed, since independent and reliable verification of such identity cards lie solely on the discretion of the registrant, who himself might not have enough training to verify the veracity of any identification document put forth by the prospective applicant. Issues such as fake identifications, proxy registrations and identity theft form serious limitations of the registration scheme. Delays in capturing data from the hired outlets mounted by the Industry into the databases will take more than June 2011 to complete. As the scheme is already effective and is nearing its deadline, different sets of issues arise. The uncertainties about the future and the impact of implementing the deadline calls for a revisit of the issues involved post-deadline. The negative implications for the whole SIM registration project are yet to be fully assessed. The implications in terms of supporting the rural dwellers to have access to telecommunication facilities and hence development will be severe, as they are bound to lose their subscriptions with very little recourse to remedy on their side. This surely negates all the initiatives that are supposed to be implemented to ensure wider coverage by both private telecom operators and government institutions such as the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC). Registration data of subscribers is also a very worrisome issue. At the moment, there is uncertainty about who owns proprietary interest in the subscriber data gathered, as well as what uses to which it will be put. The extent to which private corporate organizations have access to such confidential data is also a cause to worry. Mr. Franklin Cudjoe, Founding President of IMANI said “ it will also be beneficial for the state regulator, the National Communications Authority to extend the deadline for SIM card registration since a mass deactivation on June 30th will mean that revenue for the state through the Communications Service Tax and other related telecom taxes such as corporate taxes will be affected.” “The curtailment of services will only disenfranchise consumers who have actually paid in full for services that they require and demand, being the right to communicate on a mobile network.” Mr. Cudjoe added. Considering the alternatives, IMANI believes that the resources sunk into this project would have benefitted society more if it rather strengthened structures to ensure a broader base of infrastructure development in the telecommunication sector, instead of coercing consumers into queues of one form or the other that just duplicate registration procedures for one national scheme or the next. For interviews and for further information, contact: