Wednesday, February 03, 2010

SIM card registration: ALTON, NATCOMS may drag NCC to court


NOTWITHSTANDING assurances by telecommunications industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that the registration of Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards in the country come March 1 this year, would be free, bigwigs of Association of Licensed Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS) have kicked against the use of third party in the exercise.

This, ITRealms Online reliably gathered may lead to court actions, if their grievances are not addressed soon, even as operators insisted that they could comfortably register their subscribers, while faulting the modalities for the registration, especially for the rural dwellers and third party.

The chairman, ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, expressed concerns of his group on the subject matter.

“We have expressed concerns on the use of third party for SIM registration for many reasons including subscribers’ personal data protection,” he told ITRealms Online, recommending that the registration be done by network operators over a phased period of 12 to 18 months.

He emphasized that third parties, if at all, should act as overflow and no funding should be provided for them by NCC, rather, such funding should be given to operators who are the network owners and who have the responsibility of data security for their various subscribers.

On whether they are thinking of court actions if their concerns were not met, he said, discussions were on-going and it depends on the outcome of these discussions.

Equally commenting on the issue vice chairman of ALTON, Mr. Wale Goodluck in an interview in Lagos recently said that the SIM registration could be well handled by operators themselves if given the opportunity.

“… For SIM registration, we believe strongly that even for existing SIMs, operators should be allowed to do the registration themselves,” he declared.

Goodluck who also is the Corporate Services Executive at MTN Nigeria, expressed fear with the current modalities, saying that based on the thinking of NCC on engaging third-party contractors to perform the registration, which is strange because they are not aware of any other clime where it has been handled in that format.

“I don’t know any other jurisdiction where it’s been done like that. I think it is best left in the hands of the operators,” he asserted, stressing that subscribers would be more comfortable if the exercise is managed by the operators because the trust has been built over time and given the data confidentiality of the database, it has become imperative.

“We owe a responsibility to them (customers) for the issues around confidentiality. At the end of the day there will be a database,” he said.

He pointed out that there may be some other databases in the country hitherto, but the outcome of the proposed SIM registration would have the potential of a more comprehensive database for the nation.

“But the good thing is that perhaps there are not a lot of databases with a potential for 70 to 75 million people. So, yes this will help to provide that much needed database,” Goodluck said.

However, he cautioned that extreme care must be taken to ensure that in the bid to register subscribers, the notion of universal access should not suffer, mostly for the rural dwellers, which have been a topic among government officials, especially the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) who are advocating that operators must go there and telecom services must be extended to the rural areas.

He argued that most rural communities may not have access to drivers’ license, company identification cards with a pension or tax number nor electronic passport (e-passport) to name a few, even as he posited that six months will not be enough time to register sufficient subscribers given the logistic hiccups in the country.

On the other hand, NATCOMS in a petition to NCC, a copy of which was made available to ITRealms Online said it has some issues with the impending telecommunications subscribers’ registration, which is meant to ensure a seamless and painless exercise for Nigerians.

While commending NCC for introducing the initiative, NATCOMS, through its president, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, noted that the exercise needs some deep thinking and considerations before execution, warning on the erosion of confidence in the exercise.

“Our members have expressed concern that this situation would shake their belief in the utility of the exercise and additionally erode their confidence with the integrity of the collected data as well as the management of same for protection against abuse,” NATCOMS said.

They further noted that any failure would breed touting and other undesirable practices with dire consequences for the exercise.

They alleged that both the operators and vendors slated to take charge of the exercise lack logistics as well as human resources required.

“The scale of the exercise is massive and while equipment procurement to delivery would definitely require a good amount of time, the human resource and logistical requirements needed to deliver the solution are simply mind-boggling and may not be readily met at this time,” Ogunbanjo said.

According to him, some vendors are still putting together a solution and would rather have another entity handle the logistics.

“It is therefore our considered view that should arrangements not be fully in place, the Commission should seriously consider pushing the March 1, 2010 go live date, to say July 2010,” he said, underscoring that if this exercise is not well managed, the nation may be regressing, to the pre-GSM days.

NATCOMS emphasized that little or no publicity has been given to the initiative, since NCC made one publication on the subject on December 31, 2009.

“This is grossly inadequate. Indeed the timing of the publication on 31 December 2009 completely diminished its effectiveness as the target audience was well away on vacation amidst sumptuous festivity,” he said.

NATCOMS further invited NCC to emulate the kind of campaign the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) deployed in the wake of the plans to introduce ‘Polymer Notes’ which was sustained for months across the various media including print, radio and television.

“We find it most disturbing that the telephone subscriber registration exercise which is highly intrusive by its attempt to collect sensitive personal information of Nigerians has been given virtually no publicity in practical terms,” he said.

The telecom advocacy group equally suggested that NCC should publish Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website and traditional media to adequately inform and educate consumers.

While canvassing greater involvement of telecommunications consumer groups in the initiative, NATCOMS reiterated that this is required to assure adequate representation of subscriber expectations directly by telecommunications subscribers.

Ogunbanjo warned that if most of the shortcomings of the present directive on the subject is not accommodated prior to the commencement of the exercise, “NATCOMS will go to court.”


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