Few days ago Mr. Rehman Malik, Federal Minister for Interior, emphasized the blockade of un-verified SIMs and and handsets carrying same IMEIs. We took it as another but usual political statement and went on.
However, in a latest development, things have gone serious. We are told that Mr. Malik has met the high-ups of all cellular companies yesterday.
Reportedly, Chairman PTA, Provincial Home Secretaries, Federal Secretary Interior, Chief Commissioner and IGP Islamabad and representatives of intelligence agencies and FIA were also present in the meeting.
Here’s the crux of Mr. Malik’s desires:
- Issue one SIM card against one CNIC (and block all other SIMs)
- All prepaid Sims should be verified with in 30 days.
- SMS with IMEI numbers need to be synchronized with the help of service provider and NADRA.Service provider will send the detail of tempered numbers through SMS to the consumer.
- The Minister asked the entire service provider to identify all those consumers holding the sets with duplicate/multiple IMEI against one SIM within 10 days and inform the consumer accordingly.
- All the cellular companies are to advise their contract customers to re-verify their IDs/SIMs again
- No body will be able to import mobile phone without authorization of PTA.PTA will issues license of importing phones after doing due diligence.
- PTA will issue standards/specifications of cellular phone to be imported.
- The importers have to submit specifications, IMEI number of cellular phones and sets to PTA before getting import license. FBR has been advised not clear any consignment without PTA authorization.
Clearly, these are not a realistic demands, especially the one SIM per one CNIC issue. One this is sure that cellular companies are not happy about it. In fact they don’t want to implement it at all, which makes sense, as Mr. Malik’s this strange desire has surfaced when cellular companies have over 100 million customers.
Cellular companies do understand the national security concerns, but they said such regulations were to be made 10 years ago – and not now.
Cellular companies straight away have shown their reservations and proposed a meeting where the experts and technical personnel from interior ministry and telecom companies should be invited to discuss on the alternative to this issue.
If this order is put into practice large number of subscribers (as high as 40-45 million) may go away. Chances are, that cellular companies may reach out to court in case if it happens!
Who is responsible for this:
No doubt that the issue of un-verified SIMs is a dilemma that has engulfed Pakistani cellular industry for years now. It should get resolved – but not by the procedures Mr. Malik has proposed.
Before victimizing the cellular companies and asking them to block millions of their customers, Mr. Malik should have thought for a second that why the situation has reached this far. Minister should have looked into PTA and Government of Pakistan’s role for not introducing a systematic, flawless and clean mechanism for registering SIMs in the first place (and that too before the industry’s boom).
If all or any of above rules were put in place in early 2000 or say in year 2003, situation could be lot different than what we have now.
At that time, our former chairman PTA and the cellular companies remained counting the SIM numbers and didn’t think for a second about the outcome of selling millions of SIMs without ID cards or verification.
But again, it’s the regulator and the government who need to keep an eye on cellular companies. This is what we call lack of vision…
We have seen plentiful of such orders and regulations that promised the total elimination of un-verified SIMs. However, none of them was solid enough to resolve the issue.
Analysts are expecting these fresh orders to diminish as well under the heavy influence of billions of dollars that these cellular companies make for themselves and the government.
By the way, just for records, these orders (or any others after finalization) will go to Ministry of Information and Technology, which will issue a directive to PTA to get them implemented.
The only solution:
I have spoken to countless industry experts, and those who are going to directly get impacted with these new orders, here is the only solution that can work for complete elimination of un-verified SIMs from the country:
– Fresh Registrations:
Yes, re-register each and every subscriber in the country. Give cellular companies and subscribers a deadline (say one year or 18 months) to re-register their SIMs – and then block all un-registered SIMs after the deadline. Government should fund the re-registration process, or at least subsidize it to compensate its part of mistake.
This way, at the time of deadline, we will have working and registered SIMs in hands, while all other subscriptions will churn out, for good.
But again, this will require a lot of money and heart to begin with. But more important is that what Rahman Malik has in mind for coming days!