At least half of Zimbabwe’s more than seven million mobile phone users could be switched off unless the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) extends the deadline for SIM card registration.
Generally, the response of mobile phone users has been either non-committal or indifferent.
Most users who spoke to this paper view the regulation as an unwarranted form of telecoms control and this clearly shows Potraz has not done enough in terms of publicity campaigns.
Gideon Magodo, Potraz communications director, said the regulator would only consider extending the deadline beyond August 31 after reviewing operators’ progress reports, which were submitted on July 30.
“We expect each and every one with a SIM card to register or have his or her line suspended,” said Magodo. “We will see from the progress report how we will treat the issues about extending the deadline.”
Operators relaxed line registration requirements in the last 16 months when new SIM cards flooded the local market, eliminating underserviced pockets and eventually leading to a glut.
Lines, which were previously sold at exorbitant rates in the country’s grey markets, could now be sold in shops, at street corners and in tucksshops.
A large chunk was also handed out for free. This prompted Protraz to intervene, demanding the registration of every active line.
Magodo said Potraz decided to regulate mobile phone line ownership to protect users against acts of terrorism and make it easier for the regulator to trace criminals.
The database, he said, would also enable operators to maintain an up–to–date record of active lines in the market.
“The problem is that the time space is very short,” Isaiah Ningari, Econet Wireless marketing manager, said calling for an extension of the deadline.
So far, the country’s largest telecoms operator has only managed to register about half of its subscribers estimated at more than four million.
“It’s almost like a census, and we need more time. We have deployed our teams in rural areas for Econet Wireless subscribers to register. We are now moving from company to company in order to speed up the process as the deadline is fast approaching.”
NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe also face the same dilemma. Telecel has introduced electronic registration to speed up the process, while Econet has intensified line registration advertisements iced with rewards.