Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Apathy, confusion trail SIM card registration

Apathy on the side of telecommunications consumers in the country may forestall the six months deadline given to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last weekend by the House Committee on Communications to complete registration of over 78 million Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards.

This is coming as confusion may have set in at various customer care centres of telecom operators following uncohesive module for the registration and kind of questions consumers tend to respond to during the exercise.

Even as some touts are already taking advantage of lack of awareness on the SIM registration to charge unassuming telecom subscribers between N50 and N500, collecting passport photo and filling of form with the hope of going to register them.

Above all, the operators seem to be missing a key question for tracking individuals as they stop at asking for local government areas without home town, or place of birth, just as it was gathered that most communities are very far away from their local government headquarters.

Investigations by ITRealms Online last weekend showed that most of the operators, especially the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) have commenced the registration of SIM cards as directed by NCC, but there is no cohesive module as each operator may have created own templates of questionnaire to be administered to customers by service personnel.

At MTN Friendship centres, there are two personnel manning each box and capturing data both manually and electronically via filling of form which contains phone lines from the network, alternative phone line, full names, next of kin and phone line, date of birth, local government area, state of origin, residential address, ID, photo capture and two fingers’ biometric scan from each hand in addition to a free gift for those who complete their registration.

Except for the manual recording, Zain also insisted in showing of SIM cards by customers, while Etisalat accepts registration on proxy by spouse only, even as the number of subscribers are trickling.

At Glo World, it was more of an ‘academic’ exercise with all your fingers scanned, mothers’ maiden name, average income per month, average airtime usage per month, office and residential addresses, religion, preferred language, concluding with webcam photo capture.

Above all, one other thing discovered by ITRealms Online was that none of the computer notebooks in use for this exercise is of local brand but foreign, mostly from the Asian continent.

Speaking on the seeming lack of interest in SIM registration among Nigerians, the president, Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu urged telecom consumers in the country to ensure they register their SIMs, and called on NCC to adhere to the directive given by the House Committee on Communications, that six months is enough for the exercise.

Noteworthy is that House of Representatives, last week Thursday, mandated NCC to complete registration of SIM cards in the country within six months, according to the Chairman, House Committee on Communication, Hon. Dave Salako.

The mandate was given to NCC during budget defense, imploring the regulatory body to fasten the process so as to curb the crime rates being perpetuated with SIM cards nationwide.

Responding, the acting Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Dr. Bashir Gwandu said registration of the old SIM cards would be handled by the NCC while that of new SIM cards would be managed by the service providers, revealing that the budget for SIM registration is N6.1billion.

He pointed out that SIM registration has commenced since May 1, 2010 by the service providers, stressing that there is need to do more on the technical aspect of registration.

Gwandu reiterated that efforts are in top gear to develop secure database that is reliably and widely accepted and continuous SIM card database.

Equally, experts have warned telecom consumers over the use of touts for registration, saying that anybody without the registration box is ‘fake’.

Meanwhile, ATCON recently reassured that the exercise is in progress and commended the federal legislature for backing the efforts to have the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards of telecom users in the country registered by putting same into law.

ITRealms Online recalls that ATCON had before now canvassed for a 24 month implementation period, so as to make the SIM registration a success.

Briefing newsmen in Lagos recently, ATCON’s president, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu said that the recent order by the telecom regulator, the NCC for operators to make certain registration of all subscribers within three months is not realistic though desirable.

He noted that the intervention of the federal legislator’s by way of proposing a parliamentary Bill on SIM registration is a welcome development, stressing that ATCON, as an interested party has made some input too.

“We have already made contribution to the draft,” he said, but insisted that the campaign for SIM registration was started by ATCON members’ who are already making efforts to ensure its success.

ATCON also wants NCC to engage Nigerians on the public enlightenment campaign, saying that it’s only NCC that could persuade subscribers in the country to adhere to SIM registration which is ongoing.

They noted that the campaign should not be left alone to the telecom operators, because Nigerians would perceive it as another means of ‘milking’ them.

On number portability, ATCON said that it is an acceptable industry management tool by which the service delivery could be improved.

“The benefits of number portability is however not as dramatic as to let it be handled in a hurry,” he warned, maintaining that while accepting its desirability a longer implementation period is equally desirable.

The group further called for lawful interception, especially for public security related issues, saying that this would ensure checks and balances to avoid abuse, even as the rollout cost should be borne by the government, while an administrative review panel should be put in place to oversee the interception regulation and processes.

He maintained that at this era of convergence, there is need also to converge the regulatory organs of the government as far as the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is concerned, asserting that it is not only NCC and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as there are other agencies within the sector that would be brought to bear on convergence of regulation.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D


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